In the shadow of IE9 - Is IE7 the new IE6?

Kenneth Spencer, October 29, 2010 at 10:30 AM

I have been evaluating the IE9 beta since it came out in September, and to my surprise it is actually pretty good. Microsoft has had its hands full with IE for so many years fixing bugs and supporting older standards that it is actually pretty amazing to see a product release from them that pushes forward.

When IE7 came out it was remarkable because it head been so many years  since we had seen a release from Microsoft. As developers we had suffered for so long  trying to work around IE6's many, many bugs.  So when IE7 finally came out and fixed some of those bugs we were very excited.  Unfortunately it didn't fix all of the bugs from IE6, and it introduced a few of its own. As time went on we came to realize that the uptake of this new browser was also low. Many users still clung to IE6 for whatever reason.  So now we had two squirrely browsers to test for instead of one.  

When IE8 finally came out, we found this to be a big step forward. It pretty much rendered all HTML4 and CSS2 properly. It was still well behind the other browsers which were on to HTML5 and CSS3 by this time, and it still didn't support many long standing Java Script standards, but at least it wasn't crazily buggy. Finally we had something we could work with. Unfortunately like IE7 the adoption rates were low with many users still using IE6 and IE7. Now we had three different browsers  from MS that we had to work with each of which with the potential to render a page completely differently than the others. This while competing browsers all render pages consistently year after year version after version.

At this time we decided to start passing the extra costs of supporting IE6 on to our clients - which none up to this point have opted to pay. Even though this browser is still in common use we no longer support it. And wish it a speedy end.

The first thing I noticed when working with IE9 is that it is fast. Elements no longer jerkily stumble as I drag them across the page. It also supports many CSS3 standards such as rounded corners and drop shadows which make pages rendered in IE look as good as those rendered in other browsers. In short we finally have a modern browser from MS.

We have blocked IE from several of our web apps in the past because it lacked the necessary support for required standards that were essential to those apps. Now for the first time Internet Explorer supports most of the Java Script standards long used by the other major browsers. It  is finally capable of running those apps - which should help us reach more users.

That said, there are several things I was not happy about with IE9. There is no support for CSS transitions - which with or without IE are going to be as big as rollovers were when Java Script was first introduced in the days of Netscape.  XML is still ActiveX objects, which means that unlike other browsers, you can't extend this functionality with Java Script - to name a few.

This brings me to IE7. It is soon going to be the two versions back browser and it is quirky enough that developers are going to want to drop support for it.  Microsoft's biggest problem as always is going to be to convince the users of their older browsers to upgrade. Hopefully these users will finally have something to get excited enough about to install the latest version of IE. It will be interesting to see what happens once we start having to pass the costs of IE7 support on to our clients.  The bizarre fly in this ointment is that there will be no version of IE9 for Windows XP. That is right - Microsoft is offering no upgrade path for the users of the most popular version of their operating system. Hopefully these users will move to Firefox or Chrome.  

I am curious  to see how things go moving forwards. With major competitors adding new features and improvements every  couple of months and Microsoft doing the same every couple of years it will be interesting to see how they can compete in the long run. We are in for some exciting times for developers though as it is the first time in a decade where we have seen a major browser race.  And at least in a race everyone is moving forward.

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