Microsoft Internet Explorer 7 Beta 2 Preview Review

ie logoI know that Internet Explorer 7 beta 2 preview has been out for awhile, but I just got around to installing it and I thought I would take her for a little test drive. I'll include the relevant links at the bottom of the post, but before you rush out and install it remember that this is a beta preview, so at this stage it can still be tough to tell the difference between the bugs and the features. According to Microsoft this preview will only load on computers running Windows XP with service pack 2 installed, although they say that the production version will run on Vista (the next OS due out later this year), Windows XP Pro x64, and Windows Server 2003 in addition to XP. It's not going to run on anything prior to XP with service pack 2, so you may be looking at an OS upgrade if you've got an older OS.

I think that it's easy to tell from looking at it that Microsoft has heard the footsteps of other browsers coming up from behind, and has tried to take the best features from some of those other browsers and incorporate them into this version. Some of what they've done will be old hat for users of the more advanced browsers, but it looks like they're trying out some new things, too. They get an advantage with the hooks they can build into the OS, and they've already got the installed base. They flip the switch on it and they instantly get market dominance, it's a good place to be. Still, it's good to see that some good old-fashioned healthy competition can make the giant jump.

  • Installation - The first thing you need to know is that IE7 will not peacefully co-exist with other versions of IE (not without jumping through some hoops), so it's going to un-install any current versions you have loaded when it goes through the installation process. In addition, it will make itself the default browser without asking permission. Aside from that I had no issues with the installation, very quick and painless.
  • Appearance - Clean, uncluttered and simple, cool looking icons. I think they should take a page out of Mozilla's book and allow users to create their own skins, but I guess this UI wouldn't keep me from using it. One thing I already find myself having a hard time getting used to is coming all the way to the other side of the location bar to click on the reload button:

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  • Aside from that I like simple, and I know from personal experience that making an application simpler can be very difficult.
  • Tabs - Tabbed browsing is going to be old news to anyone using Firefox, but this will come as a revelation to the majority of everyday folk that haven't seen it before. A feature I wonder how I ever lived without, it allows you to have multiple webpages open inside the same browser window and then to navigate between them using the tabs at the top of the main window:

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  • One very cool feature of IE7 is the Quick Tabs feature, which allows you to view a thumbnail of the pages you currently have open. This will be very handy, as you would be surprised how many tabs you can get open at once and how you can lose your way:

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  • RSS Aggregator - Saying to yourself 'What the heck is RSS'? Look here first. Something I noticed right away was that my Feedburner feeds will not load. After looking into this it doesn't seem to be a problem with IE7 but instead is a problem with Drupal :(. The feed validates, but has some errors that I think are coming from the Drupal core. Looks like I'll be upgrading to 4.7 [sigh....]. On further investigation here I see that I'm not alone, some other very well-known blogs are also having problems with this. May take a little more investigation to see what's really going on.

    Wouldn't it be nice if IE7 will actually adhere to accepted standards, and when something doesn't work you know that it's a problem with your code and needs to be fixed, and not a browser 'feature' that you have to write custom code around? Oh, dare I get my hopes up?....

    For me, and this is very much just a personal opinion, having an RSS reader that is an independent program that runs outside of your web browser is just dumb. It's not like you're going to be launching another program from it, if you see something you want to look at you're always going to launching your browser. Why not have it inside the browser to begin with? Obviously Firefox does this, but if it were really good at it there wouldn't be so many people using external aggragators (myself included). So if I was Microsoft I would be looking at this as an opportunity to once again leverage my dominance of the current user base to lock up another market segment (I'm sure this has dawned on them).

    Having said all of that, I'm still trying to figure out if this aggregator will work for me. The 'Favorites Center' (on the left) opens by clicking the little star icon, and serves as the aggregator navigator (say that 5 times fast). You can lock it into the side of the browser, or it just goes away if you click on anything else, not sure if this is a bug or a feature. I couldn't immediately find what they're calling the box on the right, I labeled it 'Feed Details' for lack of a better term. Seems like a good idea, it creates categories using tags and allows for in line filtering and sorting. There doesn't seem to be any way to close that, which is a problem as it floats over the page and hides anything that it's over. Again, may be too early to tell if this is a bug or feature:

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  • Organizing feeds is pretty straightforward, it's your typical right-click, create folder, drag-n-drop kind of thing:

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  • I'm going to spend a little time setting up some feeds here, I may move my blog-related feeds over to see what happens. If nothing else it's worth spending some more time looking at.
  • Parental Controls - Built right into a browser, now there's a brainstorm, and as a parent is something that I'm really looking forward to seeing. Only problem is that the security hooks are going to be coming through Vista, so you'll need the new OS to get this feature. There is a very detailed overview from the IEBlog here -
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  • CSS Standards Compliance - It looks like Microsoft is giving this a sincere effort, which is a really good thing. I see some things on my site and others that are a little weird, but I think it's still a little early to start tweaking the CSS to get the formatting right. There's another good post and comment thread from the IEBlog here - Again, I think it's just too early with a beta 2 to get overly worked up about this, and they are apparently still working on this. There will be plenty of time to dissect this once IE7 actually launches.

Taking a 40,000 foot view, it seems to me the best thing that we're all looking at here is an apparent change in Microsoft's mind set. It wasn't long ago when MS would have said 'This is what you get, it doesn't matter that it's not standards compliant. We're big enough that we don't really care, people will still come to us'. I get the feeling that Firefox has proven to them that they need to pay attention to what their user base is saying, and it looks like (at least initially) they're listening.

Additional resources

  • Take a quick tour of Internet Explorer 7 or download it here
  • Blake Handler's The Road To Know Where has a nice post on this subject with plenty of links
  • Microsoft has been very active in their IEBLog, it's worth a look if you would like more information

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