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Is Microsoft Aiming for Mediocrity with IE7?

Internet Explorer

BetaNews recently revealed that a public beta of IE 7 for Windows XP will be available in the first quarter of 2006. As many of you know, beta 1 has been available to developers for quite some time. There has also been plenty of news over the last few months regarding the various features that IE7 will bring to the table.

Obviously, anything will be an improvement over the hideously antiquated IE6 – but it seems that the new IE7 is more of an attempt to match Firefox and Opera as opposed to surpassing them.

Let’s take a look at some of the known features for IE7:

Tabbed browsing – All of the modern browsers already have this option.
RSS integration – Again, this has been a common feature on other browsers for quite some time.
Shrink to fit web page printing – a definite improvement over IE6
Inline search box – standard on other browsers
Quick Tabs – allows users to view all open tabs on a single page. There are browsers out there with similar capabilities – but this seems to be more user friendly. Could be a nice feature.
Page Zoom – Allows user to “zoom in on page contents.” This is already available in Opera
Features for web developers: Support for transparent PNG files (allows for overlaid graphical designs), CSS consistency, CSS 2 fixed positioning, and international domain name (IDN) support. IE 7 will not, however, conform fully to CSS 2 specifications.
Security: This is the main focus of IE7 build team. Some of the features include – anti-phishing technology, ActiveX Opt-in, a Protected Mode for IE when running on Windows Vista (“reduces the severity of threats to IE and add-ons running in the IE process by eliminating the silent install of malicious code through software vulnerabilities.”), cross-domain barrier (“provides increased enforcement of cross domain navigational limits to prevent undersirable access to redirected data.”), parental controls, and an improved architectural base.

Reviews for IE7 Beta 1: (Please note that these reviews do not reflect the new features upcoming in Beta 2)

Connected Internet: “I’ve been having a play around with IE7 and to be honest I haven’t seen anything yet that would make me desert Firefox.”

BentUser: “If the beta is any indication, IE7 should be a solid upgrade from 6; bringing Microsoft back into the game anyway. Will I switch back (I was a heavy IE5 user)? No. Simple as that, unless they make some huge and non-Microsoft changes it isn’t going to be as compelling a product as Firefox.”

SuperSite: “IE 7 isn’t horrible, but it isn’t going to set the world on fire either. Arguably, it doesn’t need to: If IE 7 is simply Good Enough to stem the flow of users from Firefox, it will be very successful indeed.”

Conclusion: Basically, Microsoft has done little to differentiate IE7 from browsers like Firefox, Opera, and Safari thus far. The attention to web developers is nice to see – and some of the security features (especially anti-phishing) are compelling, but there is nothing that I would consider to be revolutionary.

Perhaps Paul Thurrott of SuperSite was correct in his assessment that IE7 doesn’t need to “set the world on fire” to be successful. The vast majority of the world’s computer users still have IE set as their main browser – and, in all likelyhood, Microsoft is simply trying to “stop the bleeding” with regard to lost customers. However, browsers like Firefox have earned a reputation for quality and innovation – and they have the allure that comes with defying the establishment.

In the end, IE7 may stem the tide, but it is unlikely to win back any converts.

Posted by Sean

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