On Internet Explorer and Microsoft

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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]