UX Magazine

Defining and Informing the Complex Field of User Experience (UX)
Article No. 26 February 1, 2006

IE7 First Impressions

While many of you will already have sampled Microsoft’s next browser from a developer (or leaked) version the newly released Beta 2 is the first time the general public will be invited to test what Microsoft certainly hopes will curb the enthusiasm with which people have been flocking to Mozilla-based browsers, most notably the venerable Firefox.

As we have come to expect from Microsoft downloads, the installer verifies the validity of your Windows license before continuing with the install. It also asks if you wish to install a couple of additional security add-ons but generally goes about its business quickly and with a minimum of fuss. It is important to note that the installation will replace your current Internet Explorer with version 7 beta 2. While there might be a way to get around that it wasn’t obvious and it could mean that web-developers lose their ability to test their work in what is still the world’s most popular browser, IE6.

The first thing that strikes you is just how simple the interface is (screenshots on Flickr). The Fisher-Price aesthetics are hit and miss but any effort to streamline the browser interface should be applauded. I have to admit not being entirely comfortable with the new layout, occasionally fumbling to find the simplest of actions. The lack of standard “File, Edit, View” menu at the top is an interesting choice, especially since the newly laid out menu doesn’t fit next to the tabs in most resolutions.

Currently, IE7 feels uncomfortably stuck between XP’s shiny look and Vista’s all-vector extravaganza and it shows. The GUI feels rough in parts, icons aren’t scaled cleanly and some of the colour choices are just odd. It looks like the result of a botched attempt at combining MSN Explorer with a pimped-up Firefox. It looks a bit too toy-like for me but that could be exactly what attracts some people.

The new (extensively hyped) features set are well implemented. RSS features are obvious and quite clear. This could mean that RSS gets adopted by a wider majority so we should all be happy but I can’t help but feel that browser-integrated RSS or even bookmark features are proving rather pointless. There are obvious reasons for switching to hosted services to handle your information management. The future of the browser should lie in integrating with these services (like say, Flock).

Speaking of integration, Microsoft shows that it can play ball with a neat search widget that allows you to very easily add “third party” engines such as Google. This is more or less lifted straight from Firefox and as this still remains the most flexible system I’ve ever accounted it’s fine by me. The similarities with Firefox don’t end there, in actuality the browser does hardly anything you couldn’t do with Firefox and a handful of extensions.

As expected the engine renders pages far better than the current version. Strangely our test machine showed all content as ClearType even while it was disabled within the OS. I noticed some extensive text corruption in certain instances which can most probably be attributed to its beta status.

While it isn’t currently quite ready to make Firefox-switchers switch back it can only be a good thing that Microsoft finally unleashes its first real update to Internet Explorer in what seems an eternity. The new features are all in all welcome but what I welcome most is the far improved support for standards. It might not make Microsoft regain the users it lost during what can only be called Internet Explorer’s hiatus. For some this will be too little too late and I would likely agree but I feel that the new rendering engine, tabbed browsing and the various security improvements make this, at the very least, a step in the right direction. It will be interesting to see how the new browser gets received by the general public and whether or not it stalls the Firefox’ meteoric rise to fame. Watch this space.

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If you have Mcafee VirusScan (at least version 8) you shouldn´t install this beta, updates of the antivirus software will stop working!

Martin: It will also be interesting to see how it works in the final Vista version which is primarily what this browser was built for.

Alex, I agree with you on it being a good attempt bearing in mind the bigger MS picture (with all the factors you mentioned in your comment). One thing I’ve found is that it’s still quite a bit more sluggish than FF – hopefully this is a beta thing, but disappointing nonetheless.

It will be interesting to see the final release version…

“And for God’s sake let me put the File, Edit, View, etc. menus where I want them. And those misplaced refresh and stop buttons! Oh, the humanity!”

Glad I’m not the only one annoyed with this.

I’d also like to get rid of the extra search window, but I’ve yet to find an option to do that.

It still draws CSS pages 100% wrongly.

In my experience after uninstalling, IE6 crashes. So You’d better wait for the final…

Alex: Glad to hear it. Gotta keep you guys on your toes. Excellent publication.

ClearType is another point I take issue with. I agree with Peter G that it is good to get more people to use it, but I would expect IE to respect system settings and not have a separate misplaced option in “Internet Options.” I prefer to keep it off, mainly because I like to experience the web as the majority does for development purposes. When ClearType becomes widespread I’ll start enabling it.

And for God’s sake let me put the File, Edit, View, etc. menus where I want them. And those misplaced refresh and stop buttons! Oh, the humanity!

Pat: Diplomatic because it’s a still only a beta. Final release will be faced with an actual review.

This diplomatic review aside, IE7 drops the ball in including more page rendering bugs.

Wouldn’t the installer have to connect to the Internet to verify a Windows installation? I wasn’t connected to the ‘net when I installed it, and it still went along with it. Let’s talk about vaporware.

I personally don’t use ClearType and would prefer it if the browser used my OS defaults.

Eoghan: It’s strange that Google would be your default browser, mine was MSN. Could it be that it detected a setting on a previous installation?

ClearType looks really ugly in my opinion, nothing beats good ol’ Mac OS X font anti-aliasing.

Strangely our test machine showed all content as ClearType even while it was disabled within the OS.

There’s now an option in the Internet Options… window under the Advanced tab and the Multimedia section to turn ClearType on/off.

Seems like a very good change to me since it will get more people using ClearType.

I’m sticking with Firefox (especially since I can open IE-rendered tabs now), it is a superior browser in every way but a new version of IE which is more compliant, more secure and faster is a very good thing. The IE team is full of great people, just the fact that they’ll be busy maintaining and updating a brand new IE is good news. While I’m not trying to defend them, Microsoft doesn’t have the advantage of working from a clean slate like the Firefox team had. They still have to maintain support for various technologies they developed, keep the casual user happy and fit snuggly within the company’s overall vision. Not an easy situation to be in even if it’s in many ways self inflicted.

I think it’s great that Microsoft is doing this. While it may not recover users lost to the Firefox side, it will improve the navigation, security and usability for those who just use the computer a few times per week to check e-mail and news, or read a blog. Also, it is a good step towards cleaning up our website layouts. I’m sick of using tricks, and spending up to 50% of a project’s time (and my precious sleep) figuring out how to make this or that work.

Its Crap. It still doesnt understand some of the more advanced CSS such as .before and .after (well, advanced for IE) why is it the most populest browser has to be the the crappest one?!?!

Its a tad faster than the last version and its emphasis on security is more than obvious which, will please alot of people but i find it over the top and quite frankly, annoying.

LONG LIVE FIREFOX!

Google is the default search engine (placed above MSN) in my install of the latest IE7 release. Why on earth would they do that?

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