On Internet Explorer and Microsoft

Warning This article was written over six months ago, and may contain outdated information.

I’m not a blind Microsoft-basher, neither am I an MS fanboy (in fact, I think the whole idea of aligning yourself with any single technology or brand is pretty narrow-minded). I think MS do some things well, and some things poorly. I am going to have a bit of a pop at them at the end of this article, but I’m going to start by defending them.

Recently I read this piece of hyperbolic link-bait: IE9 is the IE6 of CSS3. In the article the author bemoans the fact that a layout he’s created using some new CSS3 features doesn’t display well in IE9. His complaints betray his basic misunderstanding of software development, the standards process, and Microsoft themselves.

Browser makers are under no obligation to include CSS3 features just because other browsers do. Just because WebKit proposed a bunch of new modules and the W3C have agreed to open a consultation on them, doesn’t mean they are an ‘official’ part of CSS3. In Microsoft’s case they also have a policy of not implementing features that don’t have a full suite of tests; one of the features in the article that the author mentions is the Flexible Box Layout module, which is far from complete — Firefox and WebKit have it implemented, but it behaves differently in each and the spec is still undergoing revision.

Also, it must be remembered that IE9 is still in Beta; new features are being added, removed and changed constantly. If you encounter an inconsistency in the way those features are implemented, stop griping and file a bug report. Personally, I’d favour a browser with fewer, more stable features than one which ships with non-conforming or badly implemented features (this is how we’d really end up with a new IE6). I actually think that IE9 provides a pretty good snapshot of the most stable components of CSS3, and I’m looking forward to seeing it adopted by users.

So, onto the gripe. With all of the hard work that the IE dev team have put into bringing their browser up to scratch in the last few years, it must be immensely dispiriting for them that nobody else within Microsoft seems to want to use it. First we had the news that Outlook was to use Word as it’s default HTML renderer*, and now we have the launch of Windows Phone 7 with a modded version of IE7 as its browser.

IE7 was, essentially, a bug-fix version of IE6. It is not a modern browser, and not in the same league as the Mobile versions of WebKit, Firefox and Opera. It has none of the features which make those browsers so useful. If you’re building a website for touch-enabled smartphones you now have to take into account that if you want to support Windows Phone 7, you have to work around the lack of geolocation, local storage, offline storage, SVG, canvas and much more.

The only saving grace in this is that apparently the browser has been implemented in a way which means it can be updated separately from the rest of the software, so improvements can be made without a full firmware update. I hope that this is the case, and that updates are made frequently, and soon.

* It seems that future versions of Outlook (on Mac, at least) may use WebKit.

1 comment on
“On Internet Explorer and Microsoft”

  1. FYI — on your gripe, I think it was more of a timing/schedule challenge. Read about an upcoming update to WP7 that should include IE9 here:

    Mike Downey [May 10th, 2011, 00:21]