Taking the Internet Explorer Challenge

I’m going to use Internet Explorer 10 as my primary browser for one week. That’s one week without browsing, tweeting, or listening to turntable in Chrome (current “Browser of Choice”). That’s one week deep inside the bowels of the browser that burned me, and so many of my peers, so badly over the last decade. One week in the heart of the beast.

Why? Isn’t Internet Explorer supposed to be a thing of the past? A bad phase in the history of the web that we’re slowly recovering from? The faint image of the broken internet from yesterday, replaced by far more standards-compliant browsers like Firefox and Chrome? Well, yes, and no.

If I’m honest with myself, and everybody else, it’s not the browser that burned me. Internet Explorer dominated the market back in the day when I got excited to see 3kb/sec downloads. It was installed along side Netscape Navigator, but won me over pretty quickly.

The browser won a lot of people over, including corporations who went on to develop internal applications that depended on its implementation of HTML, CSS, and J(ava)Script. And then the world changed around them; around all of us.

Dial-up was becoming a thing of the past, and new browsers were creeping into the scene. Firefox rose like a phoenix from the ashes of Netscape, and then Google got into the game with Chrome. These later browsers took advantage of faster and more consistent connections and offered streamlined updates that happened silently in the background.

Internet Explorer was still dominating in the global market, but these antiquated versions from yesteryear were still in circulation, and still being actively used. While they were once the apple of our eye, we quickly jumped from them to the new breed of browsers. It wasn’t that Internet Explorer 3-8 were bad – they weren’t. It was the fact that the world around them changed, and changed quickly.

Fast forward to Internet Explorer 10; it is new, and has great support for standards. Most importantly though, it hints at having the capacity to auto-upgrade like its competition. So I was curious, do I have any reason to dislike Internet Explorer any longer? Is it just as good as Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, or Opera? What better way to find out than to use it as my primary Browser of Choice for one week.

Sunday, Bloody Sunday

It’s really tough retraining my mind to click my Internet Explorer icon instead of my Chrome icon. The icon that was once relegated to testing and debugging my code in yesterday’s browser is now my go-to destination for all casual browsing, tweeting, and more.

So far I’ve been using Internet Explorer for Bootstrap work, blogging from WordPress, Tweeting with TweetDeck, Facebook, and casual browsing online. While I didn’t spend much time in the browser today, I did do some tweeting from @tweetdeck’s web-application, and noticed that the scrollbars are pretty horrible looking – so I fixed them. Left and right for before and after.

ie-tweetdeck-css

Unfortunately it appears Twitter has neglected Internet Explorer when they developed their dark-theme. While they fixed up the styles for the scrollbar in WebKit, they failed to do anything remotely similar in Internet Explorer. I’ve notified them (and might have gotten their attention), so let’s hope they get word and make these changes. You can make similar changes in your applications using scrollbar-face-color and related properties (See the “see also” section on the previous link).

I must admit, it would be awesome if we could control the properties of the scrollbar by setting properties on a pseudo-element instead of on any element that scrolls. It’s worth noting that in this territory, there currently is no w3c-accepted standard.

IE uses a proprietary extension in the form of prefixed-properties, and WebKit uses a proprietary extension in the form of prefixed-pseudo-elements. One can only hope there will be a consensus and convergence in implementation.

No Case of the Mundays

Today was my first actual day of work in Internet Explorer. I mean, I’ve opened it up here and there during work in the past, but today I spent all of my time in Internet Explorer – and it went well. Nothing broke (that I noticed), nothing was complicated, all was well.

I did work on a CSS example for somebody today only to have them say “the antialiasing sucks,” but as it turned out they were viewing in Chrome, and I was viewing in Internet Explorer. Sure enough, if you create a hard-edge on an angled CSS gradient, it looks better in Internet Explorer than it does in Chrome. Here’s a quick comparison between Chrome 25 and Internet Explorer 10.

linear-gradient-aa

This particular gradient is 25deg – oddly enough, Chrome draws a beautifully-smooth line when the gradient is changed to 45deg rather than 25deg. Don’t ask me why – I haven’t the slightest clue.

OMG, Tuesday!

Wow, so today was a big day. When I started this blog post I was a little bummed that the only people able to take the IE Challenge would be those who have purchased Windows 8, or a machine that came loaded with Windows 8. This morning at 6am PST, the IEBlog announced Internet Explorer 10 for Windows 7!

On to my day though – today was spent largely in Google Docs. I noticed there were some small layout differences between Chrome and IE. For instance, the number of characters you can fit on one line before a wrap occurs differs in Chrome than it does in IE. This was particularly bothersome since one of my templates features right-aligned text left-padded with enough spaces to complete a full line of characters. All of these characters are then set with a dark background color.

I wound up taking an alternative route, replacing this approach with a single-cell single-row table, and setting the background color of the cell instead of the background color of the text. This was far better and gave far more consistent results between IE and Chrome. No clue who is to blame, or what was the means by which both browsers diverged from one another, but Chrome appeared to hold itself together better overall when it came to Google Docs.

Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday

So at this point it’s just difficult to find things to blog about. I instinctively click on the Internet Explorer 10 and go straight to my browsing. I don’t experience any issues with my favorite sites. I tweet using TweetDeck, check in with Mom on facebook, drop images into imgur, broadcast using Google Hangouts, manage a channel on YouTube, help out where possible on StackOverflow, and blog about all of it here in WordPress – no issues. Everything just works.

I don’t mean to give the impression that there isn’t any work to be done – there is, a lot. Sadly, while the Internet Explorer developers have been doing an amazing job with their product, we (the community) need to step up our game as well. We’ve got to start writing better code, and paying attention to language specifications and APIs, as well as the ways in which they’re implemented in various browsers.

I came across another “my site doesn’t work in IE” thread today. The website popped up in Quirks mode. Changing it to Standards didn’t magically fix it (as it does from time to time). Instead, pushing it to Standards mode resulted in an even more damaged experience.

The problem here was written all over the Source: apathy, carelessness, and so much more. We aren’t teaching passion for our craft today as well as we should. We teach people how to hammer out some markup, and then encourage them to feed off of the visual presentation, rather than the compliance to the specification (too). New developers code, and refresh, code, and refresh. Rarely, if ever, making a trip to w3.org.

In early 2012 I came across a rather iconic website that was rendering well in Chrome and Firefox, but the side-bar navigation (made up of lists within lists) was severely broken in Internet Explorer 9. The problem wound up being an unclosed list item; I modified the response in Fiddler, issued a new request in IE9, and the page magically worked. This designer tested their markup in a browser that deviated from what the code explicitly requested (nasty nesting), and instead did what it thought the designer intended. While this resulted in the proper formatting, it breaks the web.

This was something I grew to appreciate in Internet Explorer 9 – it was brutally honest. You got what you asked for (generally speaking), and when your document was looking ugly, it was because your code was telling it to. Other browsers would implement a dose of speculation into its rendering process, which adds far too much variability to the web.

Not Perfect, But Better

A week of using Internet Explorer as your primary browser convinces me of at least two things: 1) Microsoft has come a long way with their product, and it deserves a second look. And 2) There’s still work to be done. While surfing the web on Internet Explorer 10 doesn’t feel like sucking on broken glass, it still leaves some areas for improvement.

I try to be a little less critical about massive software, given the enormous complexity to create, develop, and maintain it, but there are areas where Internet Explorer 10 can be improved. I come across these items from time to time, and try to create simplified reproducible examples when possible to share with others (and with whomever I have access to within Microsoft). One such issue is the :hover bug related to table-rows. You can see this online at http://jsfiddle.net/jonathansampson/FCzyf/show/ (Tested in Internet Explorer 10 on Windows 8 only).

Even with its flaws, Internet Explorer is still leading the way in other areas. It’s currently one of the only browsers to support pseudo-element animation, the Pointer model (though you can get ‘Pointium‘), and some CSS level 4 text properties.

My biggest concern lately is not with the browser itself, Microsoft has convinced me that their product is reliable. What concerns me lately is with the release cycles. Can they keep this new browser breathing, or are they going to continue resuscitating it on a bi-annual cycle? If so, we’ll quickly find the web moving out ahead of it again, and history will repeat itself. I find a glimmer of hope in the newest “About Internet Explorer” dialog.

Install New Versions Automatically

In my sincere opinion, Internet Explorer (in just a few years) went from being the bane of my existence (#somuchdrama), to being a bright luminary, back competing in the pack of modern browsers. Will it stay among the pack? Time will tell. Until then, welcome back Internet Explorer.

Download Internet Explorer 10, give it a week, and post your results below.

16 thoughts on “Taking the Internet Explorer Challenge

  1. Simon

    Very interesting read. I don’t hold out a great deal of hope for Internet Explorer in the short term and that is largely because of the lack of IE9 and 10 support on Windows XP. There are a lot of companies which have yet to upgrade to Windows 7. Yes we’re only 12 months away from Windows XP going unsupported but I think we’ll see significant market share on this OS for years to come.

    1. Jonathan Sampson Post author

      Windows XP is definitely something of a hindrance, but for those who are obligated to use such an Operating System (at work, school, etc.), other great browsers still exist. Firefox and Chrome don’t run as deep into any given OS (well, that could be false as far as Boot to Gecko and ChromeOS are concerned) as Internet Explorer, and as such they can easily be dropped onto most any environment.

      Internet Explorer 10 is still a fantastic browser, and has already surpassed Internet Explorer 6 in usage. From everything I can see it appears to be gaining rather quickly on Internet Explorer 7 too. I’m excited about that adoption rate. And with Operating Systems dropping in price (Windows 8 was $30 to $40) I think we can hope to see a lot of older OS instances drop off the map in the future.

  2. kotekzot

    It’s nice to see that IE has gotten less awful, but the fact that XP is still stuck with IE 8 demonstrates an obvious truth: making the Internet better for everybody is simply not on Microsoft’s agenda. Will Windows 7 users (and, seeing how it may very well be the last desktop OS by Microsoft, I see it sticking around for a long time) be stuck with IE 10 as the standards and the web move on as they always do? The inclusion of an auto-update checkbox is not a pledge to provide standards-compliant browsers to the users of MS operating systems, and even if it was I would be wary of taking it at face value.

    1. Kellen

      Claiming that Windows 7 is the last desktop OS tells me you haven’t taken the “Windows 8 challenge” in earnest. Anyone who gives Windows 8 a reasonable shake on a desktop can tell that it works perfectly fine even without the extensions to remove the start screen. There’s even an extension to make metro apps run in a desktop window, but without it it’s still a great “Desktop OS”.

      1. Jonathan Sampson Post author

        I’ve got to agree with Kellen here; I’ve been using Windows 8 since it was released as a Consumer Preview. Granted, when I press the Windows key I don’t see a popup from the taskbar, I see a full screen replacement – that was a bit awkward (it was even worse with the CP as there was a start button… it just didn’t do what you’d expect). In all honesty though, that took me all but a couple of hours to feel more comfortable.

        As for the browser itself, Internet Explorer 10 is leaps and bounds beyond its predecessors as far as standards compliance goes. In fact, it handles some things far better than Chrome and Firefox. It has even implemented support for items in the Text Module that still don’t exist in the competition IIRC. I don’t suspect we’ll see that trend cease with Internet Explorer 11 (which was recently leaked, and appears to support even more features).

  3. Saint Atique

    Chrome’s omni box is far more intelligent than IE’s simple address-bar. When I was typing URL on IE it wasn’t showing good suggestions relevant to past sites I visited it was dis-satisfactory experience most of the time.

    IE still loads many sites slows, kind of made me annoyed.

    But anyway, nice read. Thank you.

    1. Jonathan Sampson Post author

      Chrome’s Omnibox is a favorite of mine, though I must admit I was a little bothered the other day when I realized the Omnibox is completely inaccessible when you’re in full-screen. Internet Explorer 10 grants you access to the address bar by simply mousing to the top of the screen, or press CTRL + L. So while the Omnibox is great, it has its flaws. A quick search online reveals the developers behind Chromium have no desire to fix the quarantined nature of full screen either.

  4. Debal

    Recently I have installed IE 10 after I had been update my windows 7 service pack, I seriously disappointed by Javascript error that occurs problem with IE 10 , and one thing is that suppose when I use Mozilla or Google Crome to visit a site and if need to take some time to load then one circulator is rotating at the top of the tab and I can wait for the site to load but in IE 10 there is nothing and it’s confuse me what happening …..I uninstall IE 10 and install IE 9 it is better than IE 10 . Best browser is Mozilla Firefox .

    1. Jonathan Sampson Post author

      Hello Debal! What is the site and error you’re seeing when using Internet Explorer 10? It may be the result of poorly-written browser-sniffing code – I’ve seen some scripts online equate all versions of Internet Explorer, and expect them to support all the same features. For instance, conditional comments and old IE filters don’t work in Internet Explorer 10, but many sites may assume they do since “MSIE” is in the user agent string.

      Websites should use tools like Modernizr, Lo-Dash, and/or jQuery to handle their feature-detection and API normalization. Unfortunately, the developer community has been conditioned for over a decade to be content with second-rate code, since many of the popular browsers today simply take a guess (albeit a good guess at times) as to what the developer meant, rather than doing what the code clearly instructs. Internet Explorer, in my experience, often takes the later route resulting in the perception it is a “broken” browser.

  5. Steve Panting

    I used to use IE because although slower than other “streamlined” browsers, it did at least render html4 correctly whilst others failed to support some features in an effort to streamline.

    Now however I want to take advantage of html5 features such as canvas and use WebGL but IE just has such poor support that I have to ignore it until it catches up.

    I have IE9 on Win7. I normally use Chrome25 and also test with Maxthon, Firefox and Opera.

    1. Jonathan Sampson Post author

      Steve, Internet Explorer 9 and 10 both support the canvas tag. WebGL is part of the Kronos group, and not the W3C. Microsoft has held for some time now that WebGL presents security issues that they feel would put their tens of millions of users at risk as a result. That being said, there has also been some information that seems to suggest they may have been working on that issue, and could possibly release a version of IE in the future with WebGL support.

      Since you’re on Windows 7 though, I would encourage you to update to Internet Explorer 10 and enjoy the additional support for HTML5 and CSS3, as well as a superior touch model and additional APIs. One demo I was not too long ago for Internet Explorer 10 was http://exploretouch.ie. It only works for Internet Explorer 10 though, since that is the version to support the Pointer Model (recently accepted at the W3C, and likely to appear in upcoming versions of Chrome).

      If you upgrade, let me know what you think!

  6. Adam

    I use IE10 at work because 100% of our users are required to use it. For “fun” I use Chrome, because most of the HTML5 features I develop still do not work in IE10.

    You’re best quote from the entire article ” 1) Microsoft has come a long way with their product, and it deserves a second look. And 2) There’s still work to be done.”

    And while true… this is sad considering IE has been in the market longer than most.

    1. Jonathan Sampson Post author

      Adam, what types of things are you doing with HTML5 that aren’t supported in Internet Explorer 10?

  7. Andrew

    Microsoft’s choice to continue making everything under the proprietary banner is starting to catch up with them. In the next 5 years I see Open Source stuff taking on a whole new face and unless MS stops trying to fight this natural process of evolution as I would call it, there going to suffer in the new environment.

    IE doesn’t support WebGL or even have a D3D equivalent. It runs twice as slow on my Windows 8 computer vs Chrome in almost everything I do. Why on earth don’t they just use WebKit with a D3D front end and stop wasting there time?

    1. Jonathan Sampson Post author

      Andrew,

      Microsoft is actually doing a lot of stuff in the Open Source arena lately; in fact they recently worked with my employer, appendTo, on some joint-efforts surrounding jQuery 2.0 (I was heavily involved).

      You might find the MS Open Tech organization to be of interest too with all of the Open Source, and Community-centered work, that they do. Not to mention Microsoft is responsible for a great deal of the things the community takes for granted, and even of late have invested efforts to contribute to competing entities, such as donating code for a superior touch model to Chromium.

      It will take some time for many in the community to warm up to the new Microsoft, but if the software giant keeps on moving in the direction they’ve been moving, I suspect we’ll see a large change in the way they’re viewed by many in the developer community.

  8. Nevin House

    Great article! I have downloaded and used IE10 for Windows 7 on both desktop and laptop with good results. It compares favorably to Chrome/Firefox in many ways, especially rendering of graphics and general appearance of content. It is sometimes a little bit sluggish, but not terrible. I am a developer who didn’t mind IE9, so this is a slight UX improvement, although I would still trust IE9 and/or Chrome/Firefox for standard daily accounting chores since IE10 is so new. I hear they’re working on IE11 already, so the “HTML5 gap” between IE10 and Chrome/Firefox could close even further with that one.

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