Browser wars 3: IE7 beta no match for Firefox

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...
Written by Ed Burnette, Contributor on

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 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.

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