Internet Explorer 7: The Good, The Bad, and The Future

The second in my live-blogging sessions here at the Webstock conference in Wellington, New Zealand. I'm live-blogging the presentation of Tony Chor, Group Program Manager of Microsoft's Internet Explorer team.

The second in my live-blogging sessions here at the Webstock conference in Wellington, New Zealand. I'm live-blogging the presentation of Tony Chor, Group Program Manager of Microsoft's Internet Explorer team. See also my first post from Webstock, of Ben Goodger from Firefox.

What has the IE team been doing for the last 5 years? After IE6 in Oct 2001, they fell "kinda silent" after that. "The truth is we wanted to really push things even further", says Tony. To do that, they focused their development efforts on contributing to the Vista product. But that has taken a long time - plus they also had security issues with IE that required attention over the past 5 years or so. About 2.5 years ago they "decided to get the band back together" and get back to product development on IE. So after all the security updates, they finally got back to actual development on IE7. "On behalf of Microsoft and the IE team, we messed up - and we're sorry" (laughter and clapping from the audience).

First thing they wanted to do with IE7 was "make everyday browsing easier [...] make the simple things better". They made the UI a lot simpler, to make the content more accessible. Mentions an "overdue" feature they've introduced in IE7, tabbed browsing. Mentions other new features, such as page zoom and more printer-friendly options. No new information here, but it all helps IE catch up to Firefox I suppose :-) Just after I wrote that, Tony makes a joke about Firefox copying IE's RSS feed preview feature. Nice show of humility by Tony.

Talks about the RSS feed store, which "literally took about a day" to get working. Newsgator wrote a little synchronizer, which watches the feed store. So users can use it to synchronize feeds across machines. This is pretty cool, I agree. Then mentions feed enclosures and how IE makes it more usable for e.g. families - "we're taking RSS [...] and bringing it out to a wider audience". People will be able to subscribe to feeds in Outlook and have them available in the feed store.

The secondary focus for IE7 was security and user protection. Two ways to think about security - if you think about browser as your house, you want to make the walls etc stronger. Says that security is a huge focus for Microsoft now - says it's been "the biggest cultural shift" in MS for years. So they had to re-write big parts of IE7 to make it more secure. They also have a new Vista feature called "protection mode", which they've taken even further in IE. So even if a hacker takes over the IE process, they're very limited as to what they can do. But not all the changes are architectural in nature - back to house metaphor, talks about gates and doors. Refers to phishing attacks, which has affected consumers greatly (he gave us stats from a report which showed 25% of people stopped buying online and 22% cut back - due to phishing). So this has become a big focus for the IE team, to make the browser safer from phishing attacks. They now have a "phishing filter" in IE and have been working with other vendors re security certificates.

Now talks about designing and developing for IE - "we know it can be a little frustrating" [little bit of frustrated-sounding laughter from the mainly designer and developer audience here]. Discusses CSS issues and shows that IE7 has fixed all but one of the 25 bugs they identified "that drive developers crazy". Shows Eric Meyer's website (he's a CSS guru), which renders great in IE7. "Hopefully you'll see that IE7 is a lot easier for you to code to".

On standards, he says he was relieved to hear Firefox is so big on standards - because they are too. MS will support "not only official standards, but defacto standards".

So what's next for IE? Today IE7 is available in beta form and will be released as a final product in "the second half of this year". Then they will go to the next version of IE. He promises they'll ship regularly - "if we go 18 months between releases we will have failed". Security and standards compliance will be an ongoing investment. They are working on enabling developers to install multiple versions of IE on the same machine [claps from audience]. Also the user experience will continued to be improved. Also promises to improve documentation - for Javascript development, etc.

Overall, I can't help but be impressed by Tony's vision for IE7. They obviously recognize the threat that Firefox has become, and the opportunity for IE to leverage Vista. Of course Microsoft has such a huge lead in the browser market that they can afford to be confident.