Andre's Blog
Perfection is when there is nothing left to take away
IE8 - is there a hope for a better browser?

Internet Explorer v7 is probably the worst software title ever released by Microsoft, sporting poorly designed UI, various web standards followed inconsistently, lack of innovation and absence of any built-in developers tools. In hope that Microsoft learned from their IE7 mistakes, I downloaded IE8 beta and gave it a try. Let's have a look.

Install... Reboot

IE8 installation took 2-3 times longer than any other browser. No progress bar was shown during this time, so it was not possible to tell how much more needs to be downloaded or installed. The little item list informed my that IE8 was checking my system for malicious software and downloading updates. Not sure what exactly were they updating, since nothing was yet installed at that point.

Once the installation was completed, IE8 prompted me to reboot the machine, making IE8 the only browser on the planet that requires a reboot.

Watch where you are going!

As soon as I visited What's My User Agent site, IE rendered the page and then crashed. Looking at the stack trace, it seems like there's more than one problem. One time the trace showed IE failing to load a font and another time trying to execute JavaScript code. After failing two times to render this page, IE stopped trying and showed a no-can-do message.

Clicking the favorites star on the toolbar had the same effect. Only this time, IE could not recover and the browser was terminated.

User Interface

As far as user interface goes, IE hasn't changed much - still using the clunky URL bar within the window title, which looks absolutely out of place if you enable the classic menu.

The new menu with icons shares space with the tabs, so when you open 5-6 tabs, you run out of space and tabs become too small to show more than the first word of every page title.

IE8 Navigation Tabs

Configuration UI has not changed much ether since the first versions of IE, when there was only a handful of options to configure. Now the same non-resizable dialog sports a longer scroll bar, as the number of options grew from a release to a release. Finding the option you are looking for, such as turning off annoying ClearType fonts, requires a bit of patience and attention.

Surfing

Surfing was, well, painful. Apparently the layout engine isn't quite beta quality yet. Take a look at Google Maps:

JavaScript and its interaction with the DOM appears to be the problem here, as other sites that managed their menus through JavaScript didn't look any better (e.g. www.adobe.com, www.bungie.net, script.aculo.us, www.nasa.gov, etc).

When I visited Wikipedia, everything was going smoothly at first, until I hit a page about Minneapolis, Minnesota, which had a number of links and pictures. IE8 just froze for a short while and when it become operational again, it would go into 80% of CPU usage every time I tried to use the scroll wheel and freeze for a few more seconds before moving the page.

National character support turned out to be worse than in IE7. For example, Yahoo Japan was rendered with half the symbols displayed as hollow boxes. Unicode Charts at were rendered as ISO-8859-1 (Western European), despite the fact the page clearly identified itself as a UTF-8 page.

Developer Tools

One thing Microsoft finally added to the browser is developer tools, such as DOM and CSS browsers and a JavaScript debugger, which makes it easier to troubleshoot page problems without having to install full Microsoft development environment, such as Visual Studio.

The tools are simpler than those offered by Firefox and Opera and don't seem to be much customizable. For example, JavaScript debugger doesn't allow to change the layout to split the screen horizontally and the debugger screen jumps left and right as the current statement moves from one if statement to another.

New features

Two new features in IE8 are Activities and Web Slices. Activities make it possible to select some content on the page and send it to various service providers, such as Google, MSNBC, Encarta, etc. The results can be instantly viewed in a pop-up window, so there is even no need to leave the page. This feature is quite useful if you need to look up a word definition or a map location.

IE8 Activities

Web Slices are HTML fragments that can be extracted from the source page and monitored for changes. In order for IE8 to show the web slice button, participating websites must provide additional information. Once a web slice is subscribed to, the item is added to the favorites bar and will be highlighted when the website is updated. Here's an example from IE8-enabled eBay:

IE8 Web Slices

Performance

Running SunSpider Performance tests shows that IE is slumping behind pretty much every other browser as much as two times. The numbers on the left are in milliseconds. Lower numbers indicate better results.

IE8 JavaScript Performance

Follow the links below to see the individual test results.

Internet Explorer v8 Results

Firefox v3.01 Results

Safari v3.1.2 Results

Opera v9.51 Results

Google Chrome v0.2

All tests were conducted on the same machine running Windows XP.

User Agent

It's hard to believe, but Microsoft still identifies itself as a Mozilla browser. Apparently, IE team haven't had a chance to look at the HTTP specification, which states that user agents should identify their product name followed by a slash and a version. If they have, they would identify IE as MSIE/8.0, not as Mozilla/4.0.

Bottom line

All in all, IE8 just continued playing the catch-up game with the other browsers and showed once again that the IE team has completely lost their touch with reality and can no longer design or implement software at the quality level they once were able to. If IE wouldn't be pre-installed with all Windows distributions and if MSN Messenger wouldn't cheat and would launch the default system browser instead of IE, Internet Explorer would simply vanish in thin air. It's that bad.

Comments:
Posted Wed Oct 14 18:33:29 EDT 2009 by GL

Wow, well said.

 

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