Browser wars 3: IE7 beta no match for Firefox

Browser wars 3: IE7 beta no match for Firefox

Summary: Despite a few unique innovations the IE7 public beta falls flat as a Firefox replacement. Here are some of the most annoying problems I've run into...

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TOPICS: Browser
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For quite a while now my main browser has been the open source Mozilla Firefox browser. But in the interests of fairness, when the public IE7 beta came out I quickly downloaded it and started trying to use it as my primary browser. I was anxious to see if the newly threatened Microsoft could turn out something better than the fox. And the answer is... No, at least not yet.

I would uninstall the IE7 beta today, if I could. There is no way to get it off your system once it's on there short of restoring from a backup or re-installing the OS, neither of which I have time for.

Update 2/20: Yensi717 pointed out that you can uninstall IE7 by  going to add/remove programs, clecking the box at the top that says Show Updates, and then selecting IE7 in the list of programs under Windows updates. Thanks for the tip.

Here are some of the most annoying problems I've run into:

1. IE7 is incompatible, not just with Firefox but also with IE6 on some sites. My favorite was an internal site where the 'submit' buttons wouldn't even show up on an important form. More than likely, this was due to the HTML doing something it shouldn't, but it worked with IE6 and it worked with Firefox so why shouldn't it work with IE7?

2. IE7 changes CSS interpretation in subtle ways, differently from any other browser. For example when I first took IE7 to visit Planet Eclipse, all the names and pictures that were supposed to be beside the blog entries were above them minstead. I wasted a couple hours trying to come up with some combination of position:, left:, and width: values that both IE7 and FF1.5 liked (the site has since been updated with these settings now).

3. Zooming! Webmasters have wildly different ideas about the size of text that people can read, and I run my monitor at 1600x1200, so sometimes I need to do Ctrl+MouseWheel to make the text a little bigger. In IE7, that doesn't just size the text, it sizes the whole layout of the page, making you have to scroll around just to see it all. And by the way, they broke Ctrl-MouseWheel support in embeded IE controls so that you can't make the text of HTML mail in Outlook or the Javadoc view of Eclipse any bigger. Hopefully that will be fixed in future versions.

4. Plug-ins. I've grown to depend on Firefox extensions like ForecastFox and Gmail Notifier that I don't want to leave them behind. Some other extensions I like include SearchStatus, FireBug, Html Validator, and of course DOM Inspector. Some of these have IE equivalents but most don't, and it's far easier to write a plug-in for Firefox than it is for IE so the imbalance is likely to continue.

5. Security. IE7 goes overboard, at least in this beta, with paranoid security settings. It won't even let me follow a link between trusted and untrusted sites without complaining about it. It insists on printing ugly URLs at the top of every web app window. Although Firefox has had a handful of security failures recently it's been relatively solid in this regard without having to resort to draconian measures. 

6. Open source community. Mozilla Firefox, which uses the reciprocal, non-viral Mozilla Public License (MPL), has a large and vibrant community that will constantly be improving it.

There are other reasons like the nice way Find works in Firefox, the way IE7 wants to keep opening new windows even when I told it to use tabs for external links, the placement of the close button, and so on that have made Firefox a trusted friend and my default browser again. I do hope IE7 improves though, if for no other reason than it will keep the heat on for competitors to stay ahead of it.

Of course, Firefox is not perfect. IE7 does a much better job handling RSS feeds for example. Also Firefox 1.5.0.1 crashes from time to time, is slow handling PDF files, and doesn't have that IE7 expose-like page view feature. I should really give Opera another try to see how it's doing too. However if the Mozilla developer community can stay focused on the core functionality, keep it lightweight, and continue to improve speed and stability, then this fox will be very hard to chase off my desktop.

Topic: Browser

Ed Burnette

About Ed Burnette

Ed Burnette is a software industry veteran with more than 25 years of experience as a programmer, author, and speaker. He has written numerous technical articles and books, most recently "Hello, Android: Introducing Google's Mobile Development Platform" from the Pragmatic Programmers.

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64 comments
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  • Uninstalling IE 7

    You can in fact uninstall IE7, but the way that the Add/Remove Programs works, it's not easily visible.

    Go to your control panel, and under add/remove programs at the top their is a checkbox that says "Show Updates". If you mark it as checked, you will see IE 7 in the list of programs.
    Yensi717
    • That works

      Excellent, thanks for the tip.
      Ed Burnette
      • It's not a tip...you just had to read

        Of course it works...when you try and uninstall it, it tells you excatly how to do it.Perhaps you are not cut out to be reviewing Beta products?

        Maybe you couldnt read it cause you are using a monitor with "cool" "look how geek I am" high resolution?

        you know the same resolution that forces you to break webpages by scaling the text, so you can read them.
        flynnz
        • High resolution

          If I weren't a developer I would probably be happy with a 1280x1024 resolution. But I want to see my source code, debug/breakpoints, variables, program console, and program GUI, plus a web page or two at the same time. I use dual 1280x1024 at home but I'm not happy with it. So I'm trying to justify getting one of those Dell 3007WFP monitors now - 2560x1600 resolution (dual-link DVI required though).
          Ed Burnette
          • ok terrific

            ok great you are a developer. (So am I)
            Then you of all people should understand how bad it sucks when a browser bypasses CSS font size and detroys most web pages.

            And all I have to say is ...your tactic is pretty sad. You figured you would reply with stock programming giberish in a sad attempt to try and give yourself "geek cred", but the bottom line is, I still dont think you should ever review software again. You are way too biased, and come at it as a hobbyist not a professional.

            I expect the 13 year olds who just got a puter to act this way....not someone who is writing articles online. Sorry, if I come off harsh, but thats the way I feel.
            flynnz
          • CSS, incompatibilities and other woes

            Being able to bypass the CSS font size is usefull for people with sight problems, of which I am not, and to read badly designed web sites, such as MSDN. Since you are a programmer you might have try to go there with Firefox or Opera. Some pages are impossible to read because of the font and size Microsoft's designers chose. Of course it looks fine with IE, but that doesn't help me.
            for instance try this:
            http://msdn2.microsoft.com/en-us/library/fwkeyyhe.aspx
            and tell me what is the compiler option to activate minimal rebuild heh?
            By the way, Opera can resize fonts just as easily as Firefox; which is a good thing...

            About CSS being broken with IE7 and other such remarks in the original article. I am not sure but that might actually be a good sign. It's been a long time since I have last looked that up but I remember IE being terribly non-conforming - espeacially with respect to the CSS2 standard and javascript- As a consequence, in order to use advanced feature, you often have to write IE specific code/stylesheets. If IE7 has made a push toward the different standards (wich I don't know) and is still executing the workaround codes designed for IE6 it might break the layout by being conforming... That would be a courageous move by MS...
            Here's to hoping...
            pphant
          • right on

            hey I agree with most of what you said.

            And yes opera can change font size. However since a very very very small amount of people use it, as a developer I dont care all that much.


            As far as people who have poor site (or someone who has resolution beyond his visual capabilty :) )...there are tools built into windows to help them. Font size will not help people read text that is graphic based. (which most navigation is) So people with poor site in general would use the accesibilty options over adjusting text size.

            I agree it may be a good sign with IE7 rendering CSS differently...lets hope they comply this time. :)

            oh and as far as microsofts sites...they NEVER make them right EVER, I agree. But of course I cant help but think this is not an accident heh.
            flynnz
          • What I find funny as programmers...

            Is none of you made even the slightest mention that the text in the page you mentioned or any other page would be bigger based on the resolution it was designed for.

            I highly doubt MSDN was designed for 1680, or even 1400 resolution. So obviously it looks like the text was meant to be read with a projector. :P

            So people getting your panties in a bunch over text in different resolutions has no bearing at all because fact remains.. Most of the population is still in the 1280 range or lower since MOST 19" LCD's now are 1280x1024 as standard etc... etc...

            Why would they develop a site (with text) based on the minority of the population? CSS allows for this adjustment later when the time comes. :P
            ju1ce
          • What I find funny...

            ...is that you didn't even take 2 seconds to check if what you were writing had any basis... The page I gave the adress of is broken for any reasonable resolution with Firefox and Opera (OK perhaps 800x600 on a 23' screen would do it)...
            And your "argument" wouldn't explain why IE has no problem displaying it would it?
            Besides, having the font scale is not exactly rocket science. For documentations first imperative should be usability, of which readability is definitely a part. So either Micorsoft's designers are incompetent, or they don't care about those who use Firefox or Opera, or they think requiring IE to read a web page is OK... Choose your pick.
            And IE6 CSS support as well as rendering in general is broken, it is not really news... Hence why I sincerely hope IE7 will do better.

            So, please, next time read twice and think before replying, thank you.
            pphant
          • Following your own post...

            CSS incompatibilities... Well who's the problem? Want to put bets on it being IE? :P
            ju1ce
          • CSS

            See for yourself:
            http://www.positioniseverything.net/explorer.html
            http://www.positioniseverything.net/gecko.html
            Not counting everything in CSS2 that IE6 simply doesn't support.


            About IE7 and CSS2 support, apparently what I was suggesting seem to be correct:

            http://www.positioniseverything.net/articles/ie7-dehacker.html
            pphant
          • The way to do it in Firefox

            > Some pages are impossible to read because of the font and size Microsoft's
            > designers chose. Of course it looks fine with IE, but that doesn't help me.
            > for instance try this: http://msdn2.microsoft.com/en-us/library/fwkeyyhe.aspx
            > and tell me what is the compiler option to activate minimal rebuild heh?

            The way to do it in Firefox is...
            Preferences =>
            Fonts & Colors =>
            Always use my: [x] Fonts

            For working on digital photos, I kick my linux machine into 2048x1536 resolution on a 19-inch Nec MultiSync 95. Using the above setting, and setting minimum font size to 16 makes things readable on the MSDN page.

            To show that I'm an equal-opportunity-complainer, let me point out that I have to do the same on Groklaw, or else it's unreadable at that high resolution.

            Note to web designers... PLEASE DON'T SPECIFY ABSOLUTE FONT SIZE. The guy at the other end has his browser set up to display properly on his screen. He doesn't need your "assistance", thank you.
            Knorthern Knight
          • Sorry, if I come off harsh, but thats the way I feel.

            Ok, you feel better now, you big bruiser develper thug?
            sackbut
          • flynnz....

            Have you ever met John Caroll or George Ou?

            If not.. He's very timid in comparison to those two. :)
            ju1ce
          • Bypassing CSS font size

            There's no excuse for a style sheet to hardcode absolute font sizes. It's especially hard on the reader with a hires screen trying to read your page with IE. Fortunately some browsers give the reader a bit more control.
            Ed Burnette
          • Changing the text size doesn't break a web page ...

            ... unless the web page is improperly designed.

            And it doesn't take a full-time web developer to know this, just anyone who is at all familiar with the concept of HTML and CSS. There is not and should not be any guarantee that the person viewing your web page will see it at the same size and layout that you intended it. It's implicit in the HTML standards to support viewing the exact same web page in multiple sizes or with different CSS styles.

            No web page was ever "destroyed" by zooming the text. Rather, the brokenness of the web page just became apparent when the viewer didn't hew to the exact same display settings as the original designer.

            So there's nothing wrong with the review. Your criticism, however, is seriously misguided.
            tommyhigbee
          • hi

            well I would agree on some points you make but I think again you are assuming that all people use nothing but CSS and Tables. Most commercial sites use a lot more complex layout and design.
            Tons of time and energy were used in coming up with the right typography, and over all design.
            They dont want people to be able to break that (and again some people wouldnt even understand that their font size has changed...can accidently change it with alt+scroll wheel)

            I will say again that most commercial sites with complex design will in fact break, or at the very least look really bad with changed font sizes. Off the top of my head? www.sears.com, that site turns into a mess when you increase the font size.

            So I hear what you are saying, but in the real world its not that simple. You have to make a site the way the client wants. Not how you want it.

            And as far as his review...even if I were to agree about the whole font size thing. You have to understand that very very few people would care, so to use it as one of the "main reasons" not to use a browser seems kinda silly to me. Also something that effects just about everybody (you know that whole mem leak, and bloated nature of Firefox with extensions) is not brought up at all in comparison. So you can forgive me for seeing this article as unbalanced. (not to mention he started out pretty amateur with not even knowing how to remove the beta application..when they tell you excatly how to do it)

            and if you still dont understand what I am trying to say, well then we will just have to agree to disagree :)
            flynnz
          • You know what's funny...

            As a developer, I can't grasp how people can go past 1280 resolution :)

            I am on 1680 on my laptop and it drives me mad. I feel I have to look at it with a microscope.. Worst part is.. My eyesight is fine. I had it checked over a year ago thinking that was it. :P
            ju1ce
          • Use bigger fonts then

            Higher resolution can give you more text on your screen or it can give you the same amount of text in a smoother, easier to read font.
            Ed Burnette
          • I realize that... but...

            I have my fonts enlarged and stuff but problem is, it doesn't affect everything and it's a hassle to have to change it in every program just so I can use it :)
            ju1ce