Internet Explorer 7 – beta 2 preview

I’ve now installed the IE7 beta 2 & I thought I’d share my experience with it here. The IE blog has been lauding the new features of IE7 for a while now, so lets see if it at least starts to measure up to expectations (remembering that this is a beta preview release).

IE 7, like all versions of IE before it, installs over the top of any previously installed version of IE. This is a real pain right off the bat, especially as this is a beta release. The irony here is that the people who would most like to beta test, and who would be most valuable for Microsoft to beta test, are web developers. We know what sites should look like. We know the standards, we know the hacks and the common pit-falls and we can test them. But we also need a working copy of IE6 (even if we don’t use it as our own browser) to test the development of the sites we build, so we can’t very well replace IE6 with IE7 because it would interfere with our job. There is a discussion on the IE forum about having both versions installed, and the official response in there is that it can’t be done (never mind that it has been done, right up to and including beta 1 of IE7). So basically I’ve decided to give this beta a go today and then remove it tonight. There’s not much else I can do (other than decide to not play with the beta, and that’s just not going to happen).

So anyway, here we go…

Installation

First, go to the IE7 download page and click on the DOWNLOAD link (no, you don’t have to add that page to your favourites first, that’s just silly).

IE 7 install step 1Step 1
Just a welcome screen, warning you of imminent harddrive meltdown if you continue. Note the pretty lens flare effect on the background. That’s just such an original design concept, I’ve never seen that done about a million times before.

IE 7 install step 2Step 2
Validates that you’re not running a pirate copy of Windows using the Windows Genuine Advantage program. This is, of course, a completely foolproof way of ensuring validity which can’t be hacked at all.

IE 7 install step 3Step 3
Updater and Malicious Software Removal tool. Seeing as this is a brand-spanking new release, there’s probably not going to be much to download there, and unless you don’t have anti-spyware and anti-virus software installed, the Malicious Software Removal tool probably isn’t going to do much either (if you don’t have both anti-spyware and anti-virus software installed, you should very quickly follow the instructions given at the end of this document).

IE 7 install step 4Step 4
Installing. Waiting, waiting, waiting… 100% done! Oh, no, wait, that was just the first 100%, there’s another one to go. Waiting, waiting, waiting…

IE 7 install step 5Step 5
All done, well except for the obligatory "I’ve just installed a Microsoft programme" restart.

 

First Impressions

IE7 Inital ScreenWell, my first impression was hey they swiped that from Firefox! There is a Firefox-esq search box up the top right side, which, like Firefox can have new search engines added to it (and custom ones made).

The tab interface works mostly as expected, as most other tabbed interfaces do (this is a Good Thing) Double-clicking on empty tab space gives you a new tab, middle-clicking on a tab closes it. There’s also a new tab button to the right of the right-most tab and when a tab has focus, there is a little x in the top-right corner to close it (at least one tab needs to be left open).

Having the ‘File, Edit, View…’ menus below the address bar is a bit weird. It sort of sits there in your peripheral vision screaming something’s not right here. I’m not sure as to why this would have been done, and I can’t see any way of changing it.

RSS PageThe RSS/Atom auto-detection works well, very much like Firefox and the use of the same icon really does help. To be honest though I don’t think I’d use it. It shows the list of feeds that you’ve subscribed to in a side bar, same as the favourites and history (for the un-initiated IE refers to this as the ‘Explorer Bar’). However it only lists the feeds, not the individual news items/posts under each one, like Live Bookmarks do in Firefox. What happens in IE7 is that you click on the feed title and it loads up a page containing the feed, very much like the summary page that FeedBurner generates for feeds. In fact IE7 rewrites FeedBurner RSS pages so that they look the same as all other feeds.

Another nice little addition is the ‘Delete Browsing History’ option in the Tools menu (aka Firefox’s ‘Delete Private Data’). But it still takes too long to delete the cache. This was one of my little annoyances with IE6. When you hit ‘delete files’ to clear the cache in Internet Options you may as well go make a coffee for the amount of time you’d be waiting. Now I’d been using IE7 for about an hour before I clicked the ‘Delete All’ button in ‘Delete Browsing History’ and I timed it. It took 30 seconds to delete everything, and it locks up the browser with a little ‘deleting files’ dialogue box while it’s doing it. Firefox took less than a second to do the same thing (or maybe it just does it in the background, I don’t know).

The multiple homepage thing is cool. Basically you can either set a page as your only homepage, and it will act as expected, or you can create a list of homepages. If you make the list, it will open all of those pages in tabs whenever you open the browser or click the ‘Home’ button. If you have more than one tab open already, it will set the tab you’re on to the first homepage and then add the others on to new tabs, not overwrite the currently open tabs. Nice.

The overall rendering and UI response speed is good. Opening & closing tabs is really quick, which is important. From a cleared cache and nothing open both IE7 and Firefox took 7 seconds to open and load my homepage.

CSS & Rendering

Now I know that this is still a beta, but I did think that they were releasing CSS fixes in this version. There still seems to be some problems with the rendering engine. For example, on my site the banner doesn’t display at all. No background image, no text, just a big white box. My site does validate, but most other sites that I’ve tested look pretty much the same as they did under IE6, although on the Yahoo7 site, the right hand sidebar drops below the main content area rather than floating to the right.

Running the Acid2 Test was still a tad disapointing:
Acid2 testWhat you see there is, from left to right: Firefox 1.5, IE7, Opera 8.51 & what the page should look like. Now, none of the browsers actually get it right, but come on, IE7 isn’t even in the ballpark. If I remember correctly, IE6′s attempt looks pretty much the same (I’ll check tomorrow once I’ve uninstalled IE7). Hopefully things will change closer to the final release date.

Final Thoughts

In a word: better. It’s definitely better than IE6 & it’s a big step in the right direction. If they can get the rendering issues sorted out they’ll have a solid browser, something that just may steal some people back from Firefox, although it’s not likely to get me. I’m no anti-Microsoft zealot, and if they come up with something great, kudos to them, but I’m happy with Firefox and they’d have to do something spectacularly different to get me to switch. But for the time being, and from the looks of this beta, Microsoft is just playing catch-up. I can’t see anything here that I can’t do in Firefox (or Opera for that matter), but as I said: a big step in the right direction.

3 thoughts on “Internet Explorer 7 – beta 2 preview

  1. Pingback: Development on a Shoestring » IE 7 Beta 2 open for public download

  2. Clearing the cache does *not* lock up the browser. Get your facts straight. Also, if you want to do a true speed test, get the browsers to open a saved tabset (not sure if ff can do this by default) of say.. 30 tabs of your home page and then see which browser is quicker. I’d be suprised if firefox is even close.

  3. Clearing the cache does *not* lock up the browser. Get your facts straight. Also, if you want to do a true speed test, get the browsers to open a saved tabset (not sure if ff can do this by default) of say.. 30 tabs of your home page and then see which browser is quicker. I’d be suprised if firefox is even close.

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