Darren Waters

Microsoft hopes to turbo charge IE

  • Darren Waters
  • 19 Mar 09, 08:39 GMT

A new version of Internet Explorer is always a major event in the browser wars.

Microsoft Internet Explorer logoWith each iteration Microsoft is striving to hold market share, play catch-up in the technical stakes, convince the doubters that IE is now safe and find something innovative to add to the mix.

While the Internet Explorer range of browsers dominate the market, the arrival of IE8 and the likely shift of many IE7 users to the new version, it will leave the landscape in a state of near equilibrium.

Arun Ranganathan, from Mozilla, said this week: "There is no real single majority browsing engine now."

We've certainly come a long way since the days when the browser wars was a struggle between Netscape and Internet Explorer; a fight that was always going to go Microsoft's way once IE was bundled with Windows.

That relationship between IE and Windows is called anti-competitive by some (Opera and Google), and essential by others, well, one other (Microsoft).

According to Net Applications, a company that monitors the browser types users are running when they are online, the IE family fell to 67.4% of the market lat month from 74.9% a year earlier.

Mozilla's Firefox jumped to 21.8% from 17.27%, and Apple's Safari rose to 8% from 5.7%.

Add into that mix Opera and Chrome and a number of specialised user browsers, such as Flock, and the landscape looks quite healthy in terms of users' choice.

But choice and choosing are not always the same thing: Opera and Google remain very unhappy that Microsoft is able to pipe new versions of IE to Windows users directly and have complained to the European Union.

Whenever a new version of IE comes out many people immediately compare it to Firefox, the second most popular browser in the online space.

Chris Wilson, Microsoft's chief architect for all things IE, told me this week that Internet Explorer remained the browser for the mainstream.

IE8 will not adopt the the deep configurability of Firefox, but it will start to add features related to what the mainstream user does when online.

Chief among them is the accelerator, which lets users highlight text on a page and automatically search for those terms on sites such as Facebook and eBay, or blog directly on Microsoft's services.

Microsoft is also putting an emphasis on speed, not least because Google Chrome and Safari 4 are much faster at rendering pages than IE7.

Chris Wilson told me: "One of the big focuses in IE8 is performance."

"We looked at pages people were looking at on the web, standard apps like Gmail, MSN and Live and did profiles.

"The experience we have is super fast. It's amazing how smooth and natural it feels when browsing with IE8."

Wilson wouldn't say directly that IE8 is faster than Chrome or Safari 4, but he did say that out of the top 25 websites in the world, IE8 was noticably faster at displaying about half of the sites.

For the other 12 or 13 there was little difference between the browsers, he said.

IE8 will need to be fast: the beta of Google Chrome 2 is apparently twice as fast as the previous iteration.

Microsoft will hope that IE8 will halt the slide in its browser market share, and more crucially will give businesses an incentive to upgrade; enterprise is much slower than consumers in moving to new browser versions.


  • Comment number 1.

    They're unhappy that Internet Explorer has an auto-update feature? What a pointless complaint.... pretty much every piece of half-decent software has an auto-update to deliver new versions these days.... it smacks of desperation if they're resorting to complaining about *that*...

    ... lots of browsers on the market may be "good" for users' choice, but it's an absolute pain in the proverbial backside for us web developers, who not only have to test, retest and rerereretest our pages in not only several different browsers, but several different versions of several different browsers..... it's a nightmare!

    I know it's bad, but I do sometimes long for the day when EVERYONE was using IE, and the same version at that!

  • Comment number 2.

    It would be nice if Microsoft actually adhered to the W3C standard. Pages rendered in Firefox, Chrome and Safari often differ when viewed in IE. If Microsoft can fix all the little “bugs” in IE it would make web development a lot easier.

  • Comment number 3.

    One of the problems with IE is not that its bundled with Windows, its that its an intergrated part of windows. Internet explorer and windows explorer are joined at the hip.

    How are users supposed to decide which browser they want without having a browser to get access to the internet in the first place?

    To keep everyone happy are Microsoft supposed to load Windows with every alternative browser, or include a choice of browser during first boot?

    The majority of people are still going to stick with IE, because they dont know any better.

    At the minute those that dont want IE, dont use it, they almost always install whatever browser they want straight after Windows is installed. Its not that big of a deal.

    If Mozilla etc want to try and get their browser included they should talk to HP or Dell etc about getting their browser preinstalled as part of the OEM image.

  • Comment number 4.

    Paul Freeman-Powell: They're unhappy because IE's auto-update is part of Windows Update. So every Windows user gets prompted to install the new IE. The other browsers want to be part of the Windows Update, so users have a choice.

    But if people want to stay on IE, let them. It makes the online world a lot happier for the more tech-literate. All the hackers and virus writers target IE, other browser users are safe. IE users have to see adverts, keeping sites free for everyone. IE's slowness forces website designers to produce better code. All bonuses for non IE users.

  • Comment number 5.

    Nothing against MS pre-loading a browser - apple do it, linux distro's do it.

    Biggest problem with IE - lack of standards supports. MICROSOFT - YOU DO NOT MAKE THE STANDARDS - you should adhere to them like everyone else - once that happens, the standards can be progressed and then we really will see internet application technology progressing rapidly.

    Personally, never use IE if I can help it - firefox and opera all the way!

  • Comment number 6.

    I like the way Internet Explorer development is going. You can uninstall it in the upcoming Windows 7, performance is improved, and Microsoft are actually innovating in delivering new features that enhance the web browsing experience.

    It would be interesting to see where we would be if Firefox/Chrome etc hadn't shown up. We would probably still be stuck on Internet Explorer 6 (imagine no tabbed browsing!)

    Safari is an absolute non-starter on Windows, it is only useful to web developers who want to test their content on this browser without needing a Mac to hand.

    Microsoft should be able to keep bundling Internet Explorer with Windows, especially as it will soon be removable. How would you be able to download an alternative browser if one wasn't installed in the first place? No one complains about the multitude of applications Apple bundle with Mac OS.

  • Comment number 7.

    Also I forgot to mention I understand Internet Explorer 8 renders web pages in a standards-compliant mode by default. Websites can override the browser to display pages as Internet Explorer 7 would if they wish. So Microsoft have made a good improvement in this area aswell.

  • Comment number 8.

    I have no problem with a bundled web browser. After all, without that browser, how would you download an alternate one.
    The main problem with IE is how its integrated into Windows. There is no way to remove it completely, easily.

    Microsoft have lost me as a customer recently (mostly because of the terrible hardware that they can't control from a certain large 4 lettered one surname based company). IE8 I doubt will improve things. I used the beta a few months ago, and it had started to return to its bloaty past.

    Firefox, Safari, Chrome and Opera are all superior browsers that work to standard-compliance (thanks to the three engines from Mozilla, WebKit and Opera). Microsoft would rather ignore standards to push for dominance, then set their own standards.

    Thankfully the majority of the web development community are wise to this and program for standards, then fixes for IE later. Shame they don't ignore the fixes though. It would force users to use better browsers and Microsoft to meet standards compliance.

  • Comment number 9.

    I don't know why people are so mistaken about Internet Explorer 8's standards-compliance. Microsoft have made great steps on this one in this release. IE8 renders web pages in a standards-compliant mode by default. However some websites see Internet Explorer and then serve up the non-standards-compliant version. IE8's Compatibility View feature can detect this and then switch to the old engine seamlessly if required.

  • Comment number 10.

    I'm actually looking forward to it. As a professional web developer for an SME I found Internet Explorer 7's rendering almost identical to Firefox 3. Sometimes the two are closer than Safari and Firefox. IE might not be perfect yet but it is close enough that it only requires minor tweaks to make a website work all current browsers happily (and by current I mean ignoring the abomination that is IE6.) Don't get me wrong, I develop in FF, (mostly for the mighty Firebug, and also mostly in FF 2 because of an annoying “refresh with POST data” bug in FF 3,) but I happily browse in IE the rest of the time because it just a bit easier without all the clutter of additional customisations and awesome bars I have absolutely no interest in.

  • Comment number 11.

    Noted previous comment about big companies, the large suppliers who are responsible for the infrastructure of many companies are never going to risk recommending other than Microsoft and IE browsers to their clients for the forseeable future.
    Speaking to individuals, the average reaction seems to be to use anything other than IE unless forced to use it (and most seem to use Firefox). Also, if you are one of the individuals complaining about Windows automatic updates, you can always change to the option of notify first and stay happily on IE5, 6 or 7 by selective download and install of updates - I have found that Microsoft's notifications contain good descriptions and enough detail required to make a judgement on downloading.

  • Comment number 12.

    A lot of people on here clearly haven't done any homework whatsoever before commenting, and are making themselves look silly.

    Go and read about the development of IE8, read the umpteen blog posts on the IE and Windows blogs, and then you might know a bit about the standards compliance in IE8 and how it works.

    A lot of people left IE back in the days of IE6 (I don't blame them) and then foolishly assume that 8 years later all will still be the same.

  • Comment number 13.

    "IE8 will not adopt the the deep configurability of Firefox, but it will start to add features related to what the mainstream user does when online."
    So Microsoft will offer a depersonalised one-size-fits-all browser, whilst Firefox, with its dedicated website for user-created Add-Ons, enables one to choose for oneself the features suitable.
    Furthermore, I am not convinced that the new safety features would be any match for those of Firefox, which (with the right Add-Ons) enables custom blocking of adverts or other offensive imagery, disabling of Javascript (which I have as my default setting), and disabling and even deletion of cookies.

  • Comment number 14.

    Disable JavaScript as a default setting?! Are you serious?

    What on earth's the point of that... So many web sites use javascript legitimately.

    You might as well drive a car with a disabled steering wheel.

  • Comment number 15.

    I had a rather bittersweet moment at work a few months ago.

    You see, I used to work for an Internet Cafe and Gaming shop, containing about 60 workstations with a multitude of the hottest games.

    Now, for anyone who doesn't know, Internet Explorer can actually be used as a file manager - or to be more accurate, Internet Explorer is the file manager, with Windows Explorer providing this component. And what does a file manager do? Well, it allows you to access files, of course!

    So, it took but a modicum of sense for me to notice on my first few days of work, that our entire video game collection, as well as Regedit (for the acquisition of registry keys containing video game validation data) was perfectly accessible to the general public (using the USB data points on each workstation), even though we had disabled access to the drives and Windows Explorer itself with a complex, customised UI!

    I was forced to inform our staff, and we quickly forbade access to Internet Explorer, and installed Mozilla Firefox, a true hero, as our browser.

    It still eludes me why a web browser as advanced as IE8 must be linked to a file manager and desktop shell. And to anyone with even a shred of intellect, it would seem wise to get rid of this plague. And install something a little safer.

  • Comment number 16.

    They're unhappy because IE's auto-update is part of Windows Update. So every Windows user gets prompted to install the new IE. The other browsers want to be part of the Windows Update, so users have a choice


    Sorry but so what? I update my version of IE when it comes up in the windows update but very very rarely use it. It's not like it wipes other browsers from my system or changes my preferenes at all.

    Would you prefer that MS didnt ship with a browser? How would people get online in the frist place then? O that it didnt update IE, so that when people did they were exposed?

    Think about what you are going to say and the implications before joining the 'its not fair' brigade.

  • Comment number 17.

    So much ignorance, so little time...

    Today's first lesson: The Trident rendering engine isn't IE.

    The second lesson: Windows Update isn't dependent on IE and hasn't been for a very long time.

    The third lesson: Going on about standards - that were actually thought up by a body with no real authority to do so - is nice but the de facto standard is IE like it or not.

  • Comment number 18.

    It's a good competitor to Firefox, but it is quite slow on older PCs. Missing some useful stuff like spellchecking.

    But most average users don't install lots of addons with Firefox, and so IE's lack of AdBlock and NoScript in a non-issue. One Button access to "InPrivate" however is a real boon to the average user.

    On Vista and Windows 7 IE runs in protected mode, so unlike XP, if a web page does use an exploit, it's limited to what it can actually install on your system (and yes, I have had Firefox suddenly crash, my hard disk starts doing something, and bang I have some malware).On Vista/OSX/*nix, Firefox just runs as a standard user, so in theory if someone exploited a vulnerability they could still load malware. Even worse on XP, by default they both run as an admin(!) See for a way of running IE and Firefox in a limited mode under XP.

    What I miss most of all is inline spellchecking. I'll be sticking with Firefox.

  • Comment number 19.

    The big problem with Microsoft is their constant taking of industry standards and modifying them to become proprietary.
    My home PC runs Linux, to access my internet banking web site I have had to install Windows XP under vmware just to get a compatible browser, this is not progress is it!

  • Comment number 20.

    I do not understand all these people using MS products and least of all those using IE. Within 10 minutes of being live, security flaws were already uncovered


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