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Binary Balance

Life on the digital knife edge

Genuinely surprised that IE still sucks

It’s been a while since I’ve had the dubious pleasure of using IE as my default every day web browser. The last version of IE that I had any large amount of contact with was IE 7 (pretty early after its initial release), and the best thing I can say about IE 7 is that it wasn’t quite as crap as IE 6. But that’s a bit like saying that Hitler wasn’t quite as crap as Stalin. Recently, for reasons out side of my direct control I have once again been required to take up IE (versions 8 and 9) as a regularly used web browser and I am honestly a little surprised at how terrible it still is. I really expected more from Microsoft by now.

Now don’t get me wrong, yes these days I use a Mac when I have a choice about it, I have an iPhone and an iPad. But I try hard not to be one of those annoying, socially maladjusted Apple fan boys, who will perform dazzling feats of circular logic in order to prove that Apple is somehow immune to the phenomenon of making mistakes. And by extension, Microsoft is therefore one massive pile of interleaved clusterfucks that will one day consume and crush the solar system into a dense singularity of infinite suckiness. You know that guy, but hopefully you don’t have to spend time around him anymore.

No, I actually would love to see Microsoft step up, take some risks and start making themselves relevant again. I feel the consumer’s (i.e. my) interestes are best served when progress in the technology industry is spurred on by close competition, innovation assured in the cycle of one vendor leap-frogging another. Not when a single vendor has the majority of mind share in terms of perceived innovation. I see IE as a nicely illustrative microcosmic analogy for many of the problems that Microsoft has on the macro level.

So what’s wrong with IE 9?

How can I restore my previous browsing session? It can’t be automatically restored on browser start which is what I really want. Seemingly, the closest to what I want is that I can open a new tab and click ‘Reopen last session’ down the bottom there. Also, the task bar preview popup thing in Windows 7 does not show any differentiation between tabs open in one IE window and tabs open in another. More than once I’ve failed to notice that there was a minimised window containing a single tab besides my main window containing all the tabs I actually want to keep, and I’d gone ahead and closed the main window then logged off. I log back on later and begrudgingly click ‘Reopen last session’ to be presented with the single tab that I wasn’t interested in keeping around.

What’s the deal with Accelerators? You know, when you highlight a piece of text in IE and that annoying blue button thing pops up under the highlighted text. I mean, ‘Email with Windows Live’? ‘Map with Bing’? ‘Search with Bing’? ‘Translate with Bing’? The best thing about them is that you can disable them entirely.

Why is IE 9 so… damn… slow? On an Intel Core i5 with 4 GB of RAM, Windows 7, it often takes multiple seconds to open or close tabs. I happened to visit some page on the Forbes site the other day, IE 9 spat the dummy at all the JavaScript and more or less locked up for about 20 seconds. Performance seems to get worse the longer my session.

The coloured tabs in a tab group are kind of distracting and unnecessary to me. The active tab doesn’t look different enough to the inactive tabs. Plus when you open a link in a new tab, it opens at the far end of that tab group rather than next to the tab you opened it from. Perhaps I’ve been conditioned by other browsers, but isn’t opening the new tab next to the tab you just came from simply more intuitive? UPDATE: The preceding two sentences apply to IE 8, not IE 9, I accidentally a version.

This one time (…at band camp), JavaScript just decided to spontaneously disable its self entirely. It took a browser restart to get it back.

You have to switch to a tab, making it active, before you can close it. UPDATE: The preceding sentence applies to IE 8, not IE 9, I accidentally a version again.

Still no built in spell check dictionary? Seriously?

Mouse gestures? NOPE. Admittedly, having this OOTB might be expecting too much. Which is a nice segue to: add-ons. Putting aside the fact that the IE add-on ecosystem is a poor shadow of what exists for the other major browsers, indeed some of my issues with IE could possibly be improved by the use of add-ons. But I had a co-worker once who actually installed some optional add-ons for IE. He’s still waiting for his page to load. Microsoft seems to be keenly aware of all the advantages that add-ons can give you, because it won’t be long after first starting to use recent versions of IE that you will see the message at the bottom of the window that says ‘Speed up browsing by disabling add-ons’. Cue visceral and deeply negative reaction. This message just seems like such a cop-out, almost self defeating in a way. Surely there must be other better options that could have been implemented before throwing such a thing at the user. This is my choice of personifying quote for Microsoft, circa 2012:

Speed up browsing by disabling add-ons.

To me the above quote speaks volumes: hamstrung by the need to maintain backwards compatibility. Lacking innovation. Displaying a lack of attention to detail and user experience. Often playing catchup, sometimes at least keeping pace with the competition. Before, at least we used to fear Microsoft. Now ‘irrelevance’ and ‘stagnation’ are the words I most associate with the company.

I’m very glad they’re taking some risks with Windows 8. The Surface looks interesting. I won’t be buying one in the foreseeable future, but I really hope it does well. I also hope they replace Ballmer. The time when Microsoft could get away with treading water is over.

I want to feel justified in rooting for you Microsoft, I really do. You could start with fixing your browser, and perhaps in doing so, you might find a road map that could be repurposed to take you some way towards fixing more important things.

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