Surfs up! Internet Explorer 7

Mikey 10 comments
Surfs up! Internet Explorer 7

The browser that many web developers affectionately call 'Internet Exploiter' has finally earned some kudos points with Microsoft's latest release into the browser wars, Internet Explorer 7.

Even to the uninitiated, Internet Explorer has been the bane of every innocent surfer's existence. Microsoft's flagship browser emerged triumphant from the browser wars many years ago, yet Internet Explorer fell victim to software stagnation, to the point it could have easily been categorised as abandonware. When there is no competition there is rarely motive to innovate.

Then Mozilla quietly released a little something called Firefox, which promised faster browsing, no pop-ups, no phishing exploits, customisable skins, tabbed browsing, extensions, higher web standards support, zero financial investment, and most importantly, it felt and worked just like Internet Explorer.

No one knows for sure if it was the standards support or the better security that did it, but before long Firefox had taken a sizeable chunk from Internet Explorers market. This is when Microsoft sat up and took notice.

Web developers hailed the new browser, which did something that Internet Explorer could not - it rendered web pages properly without having to employ the use of hacks. Additionally, Johnny B. Surfer was happy he could finally browse without being inundated by Viagra pop-ups and toolbars that seemed to install themselves out of thin air.

I will be first to admit I am not a fan of Internet Explorer. Any web developer who adheres to web standards and can design without the use of tables will tell you that getting a web site to render correctly in IE is usually always the most time consuming task.

Microsoft has (rightfully) copped an enormous amount of flack over the poor standards support and security holes in Internet Explorer, but with the release of IE7 this week, the critics (myself included) may have to revaluate their position.

First looks

The interface has been slimmed down giving focus to the primary browsing controls. It's easy to get used to, and the benefits of browsing with an uncluttered interface are soon apparent. That being said you can still reveal the main menu bar if you prefer.

Internet Explorer 7 Interface

It is obvious Microsoft has employed designers this time around. Everything looks smooth and shiny, whereas previous versions resemble something that could have been easily designed by a programmer. No offence to any code jockeys reading this.

The most noticeable new feature is the inclusion of tabs. To anyone who does not know the joys of tabbed browsing, tabs allow you to open multiple web sites in a single instance of Internet Explorer, as opposed to the old method of opening whole new IE windows. This has always been one of the best features pimped by Mozilla and has been enough to draw IE users towards Firefox. This might even pave the way for tabs in Windows Explorer. Fingers crossed.

IE7 takes tabs a step further with something called Quick Tabs. Put simply, a thumbnail view of what your tabs are currently showing. For people who prefer visual feedback as opposed to reading the name on the tabs (which can be misleading if the web page does not have a suitable title) this will be of great benefit.

Internet Explorer 7 Quick Tabs

Closing tabs is a little different to the current version of Firefox, with a close button on each tab in Internet Explorer. But Firefox RC2 currently does it this way as well, which means this may have been an agreement between Microsoft and Mozilla to follow a standard for managing tabs. Or it could be that Microsoft wants to make the transition for Firefox users who want to come back to IE as easy as possible. If you did not know, Microsoft recently invited the Firefox development team over for a pow-wow. To be a fly on the wall at that meeting...

Simple RSS integration is now finally a reality. And so it should be. The acronym RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. Clicking on any RSS feed link on a web page now displays the feed in all its intended glory, as opposed to spitting out incoherent XML. Managing feeds is as easy as managing any other bookmark.

Internet Explorer 7 RSS Feeds

Web standards

Having checked the sites I have employed IE hacks to fix rendering bugs, I am happy to report everything still looks fine. This is not to say that removing the hacks will still make the page render correctly. With other browsers like Firefox and Opera at around the 85 - 90 percent mark for compliance compatibility, IE6 had a lot of catching up to do with barely over 50 percent. It is hoped IE7 has closed the gap even further.

IE7 Group Program Manager Chris Wilson said in a recent interview when the question of standards was raised:

"We're trying to improve the world for web developers and when we looked at what people were saying they wanted us to do, there were a ton of bugs that were causing web developers a lot of pain, from IE6 - and we really wanted to nail those and the most requested features upfront. And I'm actually really proud and very pleased with what we've managed to get accomplished in IE7."

Of course developer promises sometimes read like marketing spiels, but I am genuinely hoping standards have improved. Time will tell.


Ultimately I do not care who wins Browser War II. All I want from a browser is speed, security and standards support. As it stands I will continue to use Firefox as my primary browser and IE7 only for testing my web development projects.

It's not that Microsoft have not made a valiant effort with IE7, because they obviously have. And I do much prefer IE7's interface over Firefox's. It's more of a case of erring on the side of caution. Like may others I have been burned too many times by Microsoft's effortless ability to allow spyware and malware to penetrate my system, something I never once experienced when using Firefox.

Kudos to Microsoft for doing something they have not done in a long time. They have listened to what people want instead of telling them what they want. With that philosophy they may have a bright future ahead of them. :-)

Update: Firefox 2 was officially released today, and features the same tab close buttons as IE7 does as mentioned in this article. On a feature per feature basis it looks to be IE7 is ahead at this stage, but security and compliance issues are may be another story.

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Wednesday 25th October 2006 | 01:07 PM

IE7 is da bomb. Why use anything else?

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Wednesday 25th October 2006 | 08:44 PM

We use something else because we ar enot blind fools. Just because windows Ships with IE doesn't mean we have to use it, and having a majority market share doesnt mean it is any good. Microsoft have responded because anyone in the industry knows IE is hopeless. Some people think that spyware and adware are just a part of the internet. Smart people know better.

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Wednesday 25th October 2006 | 11:05 PM

i am happy with firefox..if microsoft had the goods to begin with then i would happily have stayed but to jump ship because they have something new.....

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Friday 27th October 2006 | 05:38 PM

I will keep using Opera and Firefox thanks.

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Friday 27th October 2006 | 08:19 PM

Netscape 1! Now that was a browser!

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Monday 6th November 2006 | 06:21 PM

Its a case of too little too late. Microsoft have had years to improve on IE but only acted when Firefox took a chunk of the audience. If it wasnt for Firefox IE7 would be vaporware. Everyone I know is now using Firefox becasue of my advice and they are happier for it.

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Wednesday 8th November 2006 | 12:00 PM

I have been using Internet explorer 7 a few days and no problems so far. I just use it for general browsing.

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Thursday 10th May 2007 | 08:51 AM

Firefox actually has ALL of the options IE7 has, and it had them first. Not to mention, every time I run IE7 with about 10+ tabs, it crashes. My firefox handles up to 35 at once (that's the highest I've gone at least). Also, the amount of customization possible in firefox is unmatched in the browser wars. I can make Firefox do what I want it to, how I want it to. Not to mention it actually stores its saved form information with an encryption rather then just a system file that you can't access while logged on (A hacker can easily get this information doing a memory dump of IE7, takes less then a second and gives ALL saved form information with website and all). Hands down, firefox is better.

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Thursday 10th May 2007 | 10:17 AM

Agreed. Firefox is superior. Wish I could convince my clients to drop Internet Exploiter.

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Monday 20th August 2007 | 02:19 AM

surfs' up

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