Internet Explorer 7

After five years of version six, IE7 was released today. Notable new features:

  • Tabbed browsing
  • Built-in RSS reader(!)
  • Proper printing (more of a bug-fix than a feature, if you ask me)
  • Improved interface
  • Built-in search box (that can use google!)
  • Settings protection, which should help prevent spyware drilling itself into the browsing experience

and for us geeks:

  • Extensions a la Firefox. They’re not so user-friendly, but nevertheless it’s a great addition imho
  • Major CSS improvements – hooray!
  • Alpha channel PNGs – transparency without the 256 colour limits of .gifs
  • Faster AJAX – great for all the web 2.0 sites

Plus a bunch of behind-the-scenes security improvements. In November IE7 will be pushed out as a high-priority update to Windows Update users, which includes most people on XP. Yikes. I think it’s a good move in terms of security (and us web-page designers!), but it’s quite the change for people used to IE6. I wouldn’t like to be manning the MS support lines that week.

I’ve been using the release candidate version for a few weeks and actually think it’s very good. It’s much faster than IE6 (or an extension-laden Firefox, although that’s not a fair comparison) and the tab support is decent, although I’d prefer them to run onto multiple lines instead of scrolling sideways. Gmail is noticeably snappier, possibly due to the built-in ajax support, and moving between tabs is effortless. RSS is a slight letdown – you can’t actually view the feed content without visiting the site – but is better than nothing and should help introduce the concepts. I’m really in no place to judge how confusing tabs and RSS will be to the average user, though. Personally I can’t stand going back to tabless browsing, but I’ve shown Firefox to people who’ve reacted with a resounding ‘meh’. All the windows are already at the bottom of the screen, so what’s the point of tabs? I had to resort to ‘it’s just better because it is’.

I’m unlikely to switch completely from Firefox to IE7 as the former has extensions that are just too useful. But it should make using other people’s computers much more pleasant 🙂 By a curious coincidence, Firefox 2.0 is due out any day now. It’s more of an incremental upgrade, and does break extension support, but is a worthy competitor.

You might want to give it a couple of days to let any show-stopping bugs get fixed, although the extensive public beta testing makes this unlikely, but it’s definitely a worthwhile upgrade, imho.