In the battle of the browsers, Microsoft has definitely been losing ground. Meanwhile, alternatives like Firefox and Opera (see “Test Drive a Better Browser") have been steadily gaining converts.
Microsoft abandoned its Unix version of Internet Explorer years ago, which is one reason cross-platform alternatives like Firefox are doing well. Redmond also seems to have given up entirely on Mac browsing and let Apple’s Safari dominate there.
Now, Microsoft is getting ready to fire a return volley with Internet Explorer 7 (IE 7). Originally conceived as part of Windows “Longhorn” -- now named Windows Vista -- the company has since announced that IE 7 will also be made available to Windows XP users. This will help to correct the many security issues that continue to plague IE 6.
Unfortunately, Windows 2000 users (and users of earlier versions) are up the proverbial creek. IE 7 won’t be available for those systems, as Microsoft is no doubt hoping that everyone who isn’t on XP already will move straight to Vista when that’s released.
A big feature that has been notably absent is finally there in IE 7 -- tabbed browsing (see Figure 1). Every other major browser has had tabbed browsing for quite a while. If you read through the IE 7 team blog, you’ll get the impression that adding tabbed browsing was extraordinarily difficult. This is despite the fact that a number of third-party browsers that use the IE 6 engine already provide an excellent tabbed browsing experience.
The blog explains some of the challenges at length and makes for interesting reading, but it was a surprise to me that adding tabs was such a challenge. Everyone else seems to have figured it out.
Nevertheless, IE 7’s tabbed browsing works just fine. It provides essentially the same functionality as the tabs in a browser like Firefox. You can open hyperlinks in a new tab, bookmark groups of tabs and so on. If you’ve recently used any other browser, you won’t find any surprises in IE 7’s tabbed browsing (at least not in Beta 1 -- there are “advances” promised in future releases).
Continuing to catch up with every other browser in the universe, IE 7 also sports a built-in search box. This lets you search AOL, Google, MSN, Yahoo! and others without actually going to the engine’s Web page. It’s sad to see a company like Microsoft so late coming to the table with these enhancements to IE.
Microsoft’s one innovation in IE 7 is to combine the stop and refresh buttons. If a page is loading, you can stop it. If it’s already loaded, you can simply refresh it. The animated Windows flag has been removed from the toolbar area. Microsoft replaced it with one on the tab itself. The toolbars are also rearranged so there is more screen real estate available for the actual Web pages you’re viewing. I hope the final release of IE 7 offers a bit more innovation in the user interface.
Now Integrating RSS
Microsoft’s “discovery” of RSS has been all over the news, much like its “discovery” of the Internet in the 1990s. It’s sticking RSS into everything that isn’t bolted down. IE 7 now has integrated support for RSS feeds, so it can automatically detect feeds present in Web pages. Again, this works in much the same way as in browsers like Firefox.
Edited by dsenette, 03 January 2006 - 03:47 PM.