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Microsoft Delivers IE8: Why you should care
So, do you care if you should use Internet Explorer 8?
By Matthew David

Let's face it, Microsoft has not gained many Web Standards fans in recent years. IE 7 was a botched update to IE 6. But with Internet Explorer 8, Microsoft is finally delivering on standards such as CSS 2, XML and JavaScript. In this article, you will learn about the good, the bad and the "missing" parts of Microsoft's new IE 8.

The Good
It is easy to target Microsoft and tell them what a botched job they have done of this and that. Microsoft is, after all, the 800 pound gorilla that killed Netscape. But, let's give Microsoft some respect. With Internet Explorer 8 Microsoft admitted that IE 7 was a mess of a browser and that they dropped the ball. With IE8 you see a big standards change from Microsoft. For instance, IE8 now supports the following:

  • 100% support for Cascading Style Sheets Level 2, or CSS2
  • Support for advanced AJAX technology such as the back button
  • A faster JavaScript Engine

The focus on standards is a big deal. With the advent of HTML5 as a new Web standard it is important that Microsoft, makers of the world's most popular Web browser, fully supports standards endorsed by governing bodies such as W3C.


In addition to better standards support, Microsoft also is adding features found in competing browsers. Copying what Google and Firefox have already done, IE8 also comes with a private setting that leaves ZERO trace of the sites you visited (no history, caching or cookies). This means you can use your partner's computer to search for that special gift without them knowing. The new feature is called InPrivate view and can easily be launched from the toolbar.

IE also adds visual bookmarks called Web Slices. Essentially a Web Slice is similar to desktop widgets that sit in your IE8 Toolbar. Web sites such as eBay have already integrated Web Slices into its site. Microsoft has also submitted the technology to a standards board to have the new feature included as part of a broader Web Standard.

The practicality of Web Slices is yet to be seen. I am not sure how they are much better than other notification services such as SMS, email and text messages.

Previous releases of Internet Explorer have been plagued with security weaknesses. As you might expect, Microsoft has placed an ardent focus on security with IE8. The result is a very good Phishing and Malware implementation built right into IE8. The security features, called SmartScreen Filter, do a great job and this one feature is a strong argument for why you should install IE8.

Overall, Microsoft has done a good job in improving IE8 over its predecessor.

The Bad
The biggest obstacle IE8 has is its history. IE6 was left to linger for 6 years and IE7 was a terrible, bloated browser. IE8 is a big improvement but for all intents and purposes it is like having three completely different browsers that all share the same name. To cope with this Microsoft has added a compatibility mode to IE8 that allows you to take Web sites developed for IE7 to be rendered correctly in the IE8 Web browser.

To compound the issue of many Web sites that do not work correctly run in IE8 is the fact the Microsoft has announced that it will be pushing IE8 out during scheduled Windows Upgrades. Whether you want IE8 will be irrelevant as, one day soon, you will wake up and find IE8 installed on your Windows PC.

Another bad feature of IE8 is the political spinning Microsoft is once again up to. When you go to the Microsoft IE8 Web page you are greeted with a video that talks about browser speed. There is a lot of chatter on the Web discussing browser speeds. Microsoft makes a statement on the site: "As it turns out Internet Explorer 8 is one of the fastest browsers."

When you competition is only four other browsers (Mozilla's FireFox, Apple's Safari, Google's Chrome and Opera) of course you are going to be one of the fastest. Heck, you are also one of the slowest if you want to spin the rhetoric. Incidentally, IE8 is squarely in that category. You will see that Internet Explorer takes longer to initially load, run web pages and handle caching compared to its competition.

The Missing
Microsoft talks up its support for standards on its IE8 page and it is clear that IE8 does take standards more seriously than previous versions. The trouble is, when you look at the standards in detail, IE8 seems to compete more with FireFox 1.5. Frankly, it does not even come close to the advanced standards support found in Google's Chrome, Apple's Safari, Opera Browser or FireFox 3.0. Heck, Apple's iPhone version of Safari, Mobile Safari, boasts more comprehensive standards support than IE8.
A popular test for Web standards support can be assessed with public tests such as the WASP Acid 3 test (http://acid3.acidtests.org/). The Acid 3 test runs a series of tests that push the standards support for HTML, XML, JavaScript, CSS, SVG, PNG and much more. You have a nice visual to show you what the test looks like. This is the result you get with IE8:

 

Notice the FAIL in the top right hand corner? This the same test with results taken using Safari 4:

Chrome also passes with 100/100. Indeed, Mobile Safari passes with 75/100. Microsoft is lagging significantly in consistent standards with competing browsers. For instance, Microsoft has openly stated that it will not implement any of the HTML5 features. HTML5 is the Web standard being defined by the W3C, a governing body that developed the standard for other technologies such as HTML 4, XML and CSS.

The bottom line for Microsoft is that, while IE8 is a significant improvement over IE7 and IE6, it lags significantly behind the competition. FireFox, Chrome and Safari are all gaining in their user base to Internet Explorer's cost.

Microsoft must keep its focus on supporting standards, but it must bring its A-Game if it wants to compete. The new browser War is not like Microsoft vs. Netscape in the '90s. That was a David vs. Goliath war. This new war is Goliath vs. Goliath vs. Goliath. Both Google and Apple have a lot invested in their Web Browsers and both have very deep pockets to keep investing into their Web technologies for many years, even decades to come.

So, do you care if you should use Internet Explorer 8? If you have always used Internet Explorer and don't really care about running a different browser then install IE8 - it will be a good improvement. If, however, you are running a lot of Web applications such as Google Apps or Yahoo Mail then you will want to choose an alternative browser such as FireFox or Chrome. You will see a significant improvement in speed. The pages will load faster and you will be able to do more complex activities.


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Matthew has written four Flash books, contributed to a dozen Web books, and has published over 400 articles. He is passionate about exposing Internet's potential for all of us. Matthew works directly with many companies as a business strategist coaching IT architects and business leaders to work tightly with each other towards common goals.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 





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