Internet Explorer 7 Review
We may have reviewed Internet Explorer 7 RC1 when it first came out for Windows XP and Windows Server 2003, but this is a different kind of review. That review focused on improvements in RC1 over Beta 3, and expectations for IE7 RTM. Here we’ll be focusing on improvements in IE7 since version 6 SP2, and even a couple of things that make Internet Explorer 7 a better browser than the competition – and where it fails.
Before anyone can discuss compatibility in the same sentence as Internet Explorer, it’s important to remember one thing: this is a browser that comes from a company that, six short years ago, made all the rules. It’s going to be a long road to recovery for this browser, and in the words of Microsoft itself, “fix the most significant bugs and areas which caused the most trouble for developers, and then improved coverage of the standards would come later.” Internet Explorer 6 was a standards-in-compliant mess, and Internet Explorer 7 is a very decent effort at cleaning up IE’s act.
Internet Explorer 7 is 100% compatible (or as near to it as possible) with HTML 4.01, CSS 1, XML 1.0, XSLT 1.0, and DOM v1. These were the technologies of the 90s, and if IE7 wasn’t compatible with them then it would have no hope. As of RC1 however, it is also mostly compliant with XHTML 1.0 with the exception of the infamous DIV Rounding Error that has been repeatedly bugged and will most likely not be fixed by RTM; resulting in the incorrect rendering of a majority of complex XHTML 1.1 site designs.
Internet Explorer 7’s CSS 2 support is patchy but consistent: in keeping with their above-mentioned goal for IE7, Microsoft has provided near-complete support for initial display-based CSS commands, such as those used for DIV “table” designs, initial-layouts, and other pure-design elements of the CSS 2 standard.
Where IE7 fails is when it comes to DOM-related CSS changes, CSS hover effects, browser-specific entities like textarea:XXX, etc. aren’t very well implemented (as can be seen here on this blog). Anything dealing with dynamic HTML entities, things that change with response to the users actions: where they click, where they point, what drop-down item they select; those things aren’t well implemented with IE7, and as such most AJAX implementations made for IE6/FF2 will need to be completely overhauled to make them work with the new generation of Internet Explorer.
In the previous section we lightly discussed Internet Explorer 7’s major security enhancements, and in particular, the new Protected Mode. Protected Mode is an extra layer of protection of that provides a way for Internet Explorer to run in its own memory space with less permissions than even a guest account with UAC, in what is practically a virtual environment with no unmonitored access to anything on the local PC other than the temporary internet files.
In order for Internet Explorer to request data from the local PC (say a file to upload or a configuration file or ActiveX to load) it must go through a pre-configured tunnel wherein it is subject to a variety of tests as specified in the Windows core and culminating with a user-prompted UAC dialog for any such activity. It may be a tad strenuous, but seeing as virtually all vulnerabilities come from the web in one form or the other, it’s definitely worth it.
These extra layers of security that have been added throughout Vista’s development period are true innovations in the quest for fail-proof security. They have never been seen before, and even browsers with a relatively clean vulnerability history like Safari or Konqueror are far from having the advanced security present in the more recent IE7 and Windows Vista builds – a true accomplishment and an honest surprise.
Although a browsers primary function is to render and style (X)HTML into a human-readable format, browsers have traditionally taken on a greater role in the past. While most of the features are along the lines of improving the end users’ online experience, each browser adds its own special twist – its what sets them apart in the end. Here’s what we like about IE.
- Improved clutter-free design. No toolbars if you don’t want them, and even the menu bars are hidden by default.
- Quick Tabs: Microsoft’s answer to all those tabs. With Quick Tabs you can see (a very low quality and highly blurred JPEG) image recap of every tab you have open. It used to look nicer before with PNG captures, but that’s MS for you.
- 100% compatible OpenSearch implementation. While Firefox has the broken Moz Search, Internet Explorer has finally obeyed standards to the tee, and provides the first true & complete OpenSearch implementation on a big-name browser.
- Integrated RSS Platform: With IE7 and Windows Vista, feeds are right across programs via the new Windows RSS Platform. It means you can subscribe once and read anywhere. Really innovative, and really cool.
- Improved printing technology: Not that anyone prints any more, but with IE7 the text (or image) never runs off the side of the page. The new print preview dialog also provides an excellent way to play around with the margins and see how it’ll print. No more wasted paper!
- Nifty zoom control at the bottom of the page. Unlike the text-size control, this zooms the entire screen, images and tables included.
- Direct integration with Windows Media Player: Click a WMA or WMV file on the web and it’s streamed straight to your desktop. You don’t need fancy server-side streaming technology nor do you have to wait for the media to download, it just plays. Right away.
There are quite a few new things in Internet Explorer 7. Their only goal? To reclaim lost end-usership.. It’s too early to tell if it’ll work, but one thing is for sure: Internet Explorer 7 is going to put up quite a fight.
It doesn’t really matter how much Internet Explorer 7 has improved over previous versions, what matters is how they market it. Those that don’t study history are doomed to repeat it, and if previous trends are any measure, Microsoft is in for a very tough battle. Back in 2003 when Windows Server 2003 was released, it came on the heels of the ever-buggy and more-holes-than-swiss-cheese Windows Server 2000 with IIS 5.0. While Windows Server 2003 was (and still is) one of the most secure server operating systems ever released to date (Linux and BSD included); it had a bad name and a very long rep sheet it needed to make up for. IIS 6 had fewer major vulnerabilities than you have fingers on one of your hands (assuming you haven’t lost too many of them!), but its bad reputation with IIS 5.0 stuck, and to this day, few are willing to believe that IIS 6 really is that secure (it is).
Internet Explorer 7 is now in the same spot IIS 6 was in 4 years ago. If Microsoft decides to pretend that IE6 wasn’t a mistake, that it was a normal, everyday kind of web browser that was just mistreated and gossiped about, it won’t go down well. But it doesn’t seem that way. To date, Microsoft and especially the Internet Explorer team have been very forthcoming with criticism for their past mistakes for Internet Explorer 6, and have repeatedly promised they’d do their best to avoid making the same mistake twice.
It all depends on RTM and where Microsoft goes from there. With Windows, it’s been one version of Internet Explorer per OS, and that was the death of IE6. But if Microsoft is willing to continue constant development of upgrades and not hotfixes for IE7 that add functionality and improvements to the browser, leading up to and including Internet Explorer 8.0, anything can happen. Yes, even Internet Explorer 7 regaining its good name and Microsoft coming clean. Even that.