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The Next Internet Explorer

July 25, 2004 | Comments (0)

Now the Internet Explorer team is resurrected, I wonder what will happen with the product. The latest version — IE6 — hasn’t been updated for a while and is only patched for security reasons. I think Microsoft came to realise that other browsers caught up. When the recent versions of FireFox came out, quite a number of people downloaded this product and more and more stayed with it. This caused a drop in usage on my own site from 78% in January to 71% in July 2004. Although this is definately not representive — a site like browser school also shows a drop of at least 4% in the same period.

Remember that IE6 already came out in August 2001. For that time it was the best browser available with resonable good support for CSS. For work related resons I switched late to it from version 5.5. Most of my — work related customer base was still using 5.0 in that time — and some still are now today on Windows NT 4. And althoug using Netscape and Mozilla as mail client I still switched over to IE for browsing. But for me this has definately changed since FireFox 0.8 came around. The most important reasons are tabbed browsing, security and extensibility.

Now going back on IE, the first update will be IE6 included in the Windows XP Service Pack 2. It provides improved protection against the two biggest threads on the Internet; namely security and advertising/spam. SP2 strives for a more secure and safe version and more userfriendly due to a advertising popup blocker. However there is also one single standards compliant feature included and that’s the “Mime handling enforcement”. Thanks for that because the current implementation of file type sniffing is really screwed. Generating a dynamic pdf takes now at least twice the amount of time and server resources because IE stupidly wants to first snif the content to check if it’s really a pdf. As son as it has fund out, it downloads the file again for the acrobat plugin. It has at least costed me a day to get the workarounds working properly for the various IE versions (hint: User-Agent=contype).

The SP2 version was probably already planned in quite a while. Mostly intended to make the product much more stable from security point of view. If you look at all changes to the ActiveX module it makes you wonder if the should not remove it at all!

This means that any changes to the rendering engine and additional functionality will be delayed to a future version of IE. We can name this version IE7 (ready before 2007?). For the first time — in history — the feature set can now be determined by us. There are now at least two websites within microsoft that accept user input into the Explorer team. The first one is introduced by Scoble in “Ways to talk with Internet Explorer team”. It’s the Internet Explorer Wiki on Channel9. Here you can comment on a number of topics like Security, Standards Support, Bugs, Feature Requests, Alternatives, etc…

The second site is the brand new IE blog. It got already an “Overwhelming Response”. I think it’s really a good idea to advertise this. It will give Microsoft and Internet Explorer a lot of sympathy from the developer community but it will also show the world that IE is not dead and to prevent that more people decide to leave IE and choose for the different browser.

I guess that the next IE will be version 6.5 and release next year 2005. This version fixes a number of rendering issues like PNG transparency, css1 and css2 and also adds tabbed browsing. I think that version 7 will be reserved for the version released together with Longhorn.

Note that there is already a set of extensions for IE 5 and higher to fix a big number of the problems. Dean Edwards has developed a set of behaviours — called ie7 — that implement most of the CSS2 selectors, fixed positioning for backgrounds and foregrounds (flicker free) and supports PNG alpha transparency.


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