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Microsoft's Internet Explorer 8 Springs Forward, Falls Back

If you compare today's review of Microsoft's new Internet Explorer 8 -- due to debut on the company's Web site at noon Eastern time -- to the review I wrote of its beta-test version in September, you'll see that I've soured a bit on this browser.


I can think of two reasons why.

One, the competition has advanced since then. Apple's Safari 4 Beta is a much more impressive and relevant release on Windows than earlier versions, Google's Chrome has seen a few updates of its own since September, and Mozilla Firefox is nearing its own major upgrade, a version 3.5 release.

Two, IE 8 has slipped. Microsoft changed its "compatibility view," provided for pages written for earlier versions of IE that paid less heed to Web standards, in a way that causes IE 8 to label most Web pages with compatibility view's broken-page icon. Microsoft says this issue doesn't affect how most pages look or work, and that Web developers can easily work around it. But a Web browser's most basic job is to display the Web accurately, and in this respect IE 8 fails.

I was also disappointed to see how cluttered and confused IE 8's interface had become in its final form. To have the same item appear in two different, almost adjacent menus -- or to have an important program setting not be accessible in the program's options window -- suggests a fundamentally sloppy approach to interface design. It makes me wonder what else IE's developers overlooked.


Now, all that said, IE 8 is a clear advance over the generally mediocre IE 7, and not just for the reasons I outlined in print. IE 8 also adds a quick find-as-you-type option for searching through the text of a page (finally catching up to Firefox and Safari in this aspect) and incorporates some smart safeguards against phishing attacks (its practice of bolding a site's domain name in the address bar is one of those "why hasn't everybody been doing that all along?" innovations).

I shouldn't even have to say how superior IE 8 is compared to the horrifying awfulness that is IE 6.

When IE 8 appears on Microsoft's site, assuming you download it then, let me know how it's working out for you -- please post your own review in the comments here. Or stop by my Web chat, starting at 2 p.m. this afternoon. In the meantime, I'd like to hear from people who have switched from IE to another browser: What would Microsoft have to do to earn your browsing business again?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  March 19, 2009; 10:45 AM ET
Categories:  The Web , Windows  
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Rob, I downloaded and installed the Swedish version of IE 8 to (32-bit) Vista Business on my AMD 64 X2 5000+ box, and found to my dismay (but not my surprise) that it fails to allow me to log in to my Gmail account. The weird thing is that I have no difficulty logging onto iGoogle on IE 8, but if I click on Gmail there, the result is the same - the screens flickers and Gmail fails to load. No such problems are encountered with my other browsers - Firefox 3.0.7, Firefox 3.1b3, Chrome, Opera 10.0a. My impression is that IE has a long way to go as regards reliability....


Posted by: mhenriday | March 20, 2009 7:19 AM | Report abuse

I downloaded IE8 today, but only after hearing that it would adhere to global web browser standards. I installed, restarted the computer, ran IE and the first page I visited locked up the browser. I had to force it closed, and now when I run it, it starts two processes but no browser window ever comes up.

Greatly disappointed.

Posted by: JasonSpradlin82 | March 20, 2009 10:24 AM | Report abuse

I'm disappointed with IE8, maybe I was expecting too much but it is slower than Firefox, still has an awkward tool bar for me. There is nothing there in IE8 for me to give up Firefox at this time. I often wonder if Microsoft would put some fresh people on the IE team if it could become something better.

Posted by: jeffav | March 20, 2009 12:52 PM | Report abuse

As a web developer, I cannot believe how blind MS is to what's actually going on in the world today. The sites we design are W3C compliant in every way (one of the few design teams actually taking the time to do so, believe it or not), and yet the "improved" IE8 tells us they are not. Boxes pop up, informing visitors that a page's code contains errors, that the page may not render correctly, etc., etc. In order to view certain content, you actually have to click "no" to proceed. It's ridiculous - and totally unnecessary, when every other browser out there has gotten it right.

Congratulations, Microsoft! You've succeeded in creating the Vista of browsers. And this assessment is from a PC user...

Posted by: timmdrumm | March 20, 2009 12:55 PM | Report abuse

Although FF3.0 remains my default, everybody needs IE for Active X Windows Update, and in my case for increasing use of the MS Live cloud innovations. So I started running the RC a few weeks ago, without any problems, and found it's comparable in speed to FF3.0 and had built in many of the features I get from FF extensions. I miss Cooliris and not much else. (I experimented with FF3.1, and found it a bit faster but unstable, so reverted for now. But let's be clear, the greater "speed" of the other browsers is not a matter of aggravation, just incrementally snappier yet.)

Not sure about the guts or potential problems of compatibility mode, but found IE8 works on IE formatted sites I visit, and the final version adds a new choice to render all sites as IE7 would have - something a lot of enterprises will want for their internal purposes.

As noted above, to me the Live infrastructure is the game changer in the browser wars. Live Mesh (near effortless sync, backup and remote operation of multiple PCs), Live Mail and coming innovations like MS Office online are the killer apps that will keep enterprises with their legacy documents, templates and standards using IE, as the essential platform. Given that, it's more than enough that it's a pretty damn good platform on its merits.

Posted by: internet2k4 | March 20, 2009 7:42 PM | Report abuse

I'd sooner quit computing than use another Microsoft product.

There is no reason to settle for inferior product in this day and age. That said, I hope every Internet user switches to Safari or Firefox, regardless of their operating system.

Posted by: thetoadgg | March 21, 2009 1:18 AM | Report abuse

Reading howls of complaint about problems with IE8 at other Internet forums leads me to wonder why the WPost is so kind to Microsoft. There is no adult supervision at high tech firms hence the abdication of accountability for foisting screwed up "beta" software on the public as a finished product. Google has gotten away with it for years and now Microsoft is too.

Posted by: mtborah | March 21, 2009 3:53 AM | Report abuse

Great, another piece of s@#t from Garbagesoft. Now that we the web designer and developer not only have to get around IE 6 and IE7's bugs, we have IE8 to worry about.

Posted by: sayNo2MS | March 21, 2009 7:13 AM | Report abuse

Firefox will publish Asian characters

where IE 8 won't.

Try and download the Asian character set to XP Pro & it tells you to insert your CD --- it then says that it can't find the necessary fire.

Firefox can get around that, where IE can't

Posted by: | March 21, 2009 7:16 AM | Report abuse

My rueful advice is to wait at least 6 months for all the compatibility issues to be worked out before trying IE 8. I installed it, and it would crash unless I made it start without any add-ons. Worse, whatever the problem was, made Windows Explorer crash too. Who has the time for that nonsense? Luckily, the "Fix-it" button to return to IE 7 worked flawlessly.

Posted by: PostSubscriber | March 22, 2009 4:25 PM | Report abuse

Contrary to the press reviews, I have found that IE8 runs noticeably SLOWER than IE7 on my WinXP (3) and WinVista (1) PCs.

Another annoyance which their designers did not fix between IE7 and IE8 is the ability to allow permanent exceptions for certificate mismatches. When I logged into Yahoo! Mail using FF3, I just had to accept the exception once. When I log into Yahoo! Mail using IE7/8 I have to allow the exception each time the browser is launched, after it warns me that this action is "not recommended". Mebbe it's their way of punishing us for not using Hotmail.

Posted by: 54Stratocaster | March 23, 2009 6:25 PM | Report abuse

It's been many years since I've used any version of IE unless I had to, for updates etc. Instead I use whatever Mozilla is tauting as their latest greatest and I have no complaints.

I wouldn't trade in my FireFox for IE even if I had no choice. I'd rather quit surfing than capitulate to MS. That pretty much goes for any MS product other than the OS and I still toy with the idea of dumping that too.

Posted by: jborst | March 23, 2009 10:42 PM | Report abuse

After reading the above I will pass. I mostly use Firefox. I keep IE7 on for those rare sites I have trouble with on Firefox (usually performing some kind of transaction), but I can't remember the last time I had that problem.

Posted by: Bitter_Bill | March 25, 2009 7:47 PM | Report abuse

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