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?
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