My First Stab at Tech Punditry (Or: Internet Explorer Needs UI Skins to Compete with Netscape 6)

Back in 2012, old friends of mine such as Patrick O’Keefe, Brad Kelly, Ray Angel, and James Fintel somehow unearthed a copy of “XPreme Magazine.” It was, in essence, a tech blog distributed via .exe file (seriously).

I wrote an article for XPreme Magazine’s January 1, 2002 issue, originally entitled “Internet Explorer Over the Years”, which discussed a perceived slowdown in Internet Explorer development. It is remarkable in how prophetic it was while still being tremendously short-sighted.

With full permission (acquired in 2012, from which this draft is being updated), I have reprinted the article in its unedited glory. Enjoy.

In Pictures Technology

The Bad Old Days

Internet Explorer 4.0 and Netscape Communicator 4.08 displaying a simple Web page completely differently.
Internet Explorer 4.0 and Netscape Communicator 4.08 displaying a simple Web page completely differently.

It’s a good thing standards won out on the Web, huh? The difference between these pages is that IE 4 can interpret the <marquee> tag while Netscape 4 never understood it. Those late ’90s browser wars were not for the faint at heart.

It wasn’t all bad, though: The Windows NT virtual machine I ran this comparison on only was running 22 concurrent processes for the entire system, and was barely touching my MacBook Pro’s battery. Why can’t we get back there?

In Brief

Time to dump IE 7, too?

A rumor that Facebook Timeline won’t support IE 7 got traction over the New Year’s weekend. According to a comment by Facebook engineer Stefan Parker, though, Facebook will eventually support Timeline on IE 7 (and 6, for that matter). IE 6 got all the attention for being the straggler, but with it finally fading out of view, I suspect Web developers will increasingly turn their collective ire on the five-year-old IE 7 now. We’ll know for sure when Microsoft launches “IE 7 Countdown.”


A no-doubter: It’s time to stop supporting IE 6

Internet Explorer 6 usage share in the US is now below 1 percent according to Microsoft. If you’re still expending energy trying to design for IE 6, it really is time to move on. It turned 10 last year. For some perspective, the other active browsers at the time of IE 6’s release included Netscape Communicator 4.7, Netscape 6, and Opera 6. Do you still test for those?

If you’re using Internet Explorer 6 by choice, stop. You are missing out on the best the Web has to offer. If you can’t upgrade your machine from Windows XP or earlier, there are still working versions of Firefox and Chrome available for you (and IE 8 works on Windows XP, too).

And if your corporate IT policy demands Internet Explorer 6, your corporate IT department is knowingly running an insecure browser (Secunia reports at least 15% of IE 6’s known flaws remain unpatched). Who in the world would think this is sane IT policy?

IE 6 had a remarkable run largely at the expense of the advancement of Web standards. Fortunately, Mozilla disrupted things and kicked Microsoft out of cruise control and back to competing (a position from which Microsoft has historically done its best work). IE 9 was a massive improvement over any previous version of IE to date, and IE 10 is expected to be pretty fantastic standards-wise, so even if the open source alternatives aren’t palatable, Microsoft is doing a much better job on this front and should only continue to improve.

In Brief Technology

MSFT: Friends don’t let friends use Internet Explorer 6

Friends don’t let friends use Internet Explorer 6,” says Microsoft. The campaign is encouraging, but I still feel as if IE 6 market share will only continue to drop as machines are replaced, rather than awareness being raised to newer IEs or alternative browsers on existing installs, and it doesn’t end the issue of large corporations who shelled out millions for software that only works on IE 6.

In Brief Technology

Designers, rejoice: Sysadmins have trouble with IE, too

Web designers, rejoice: you aren’t the only ones who have to deal with old IE quirks. Kalpesh Patel found and fixed an admittedly strange Apache default configuration which was slowing down SSL requests substantially. (Via Scott Lundgren [@capitalfellow] on Twitter.)

Internet Explorer 7 is out…

…and there’s already a vulnerability. Granted, Secunia rates it as “less critical,” but you’d think this kind of thing would be snuffed out during the beta cycle.

Don’t let that stop you though — PLEASE get IE 7 now so I can design sites with hot 24-bit transparent PNGs. ;)

More later, including a chance run-in that didn’t happen…

IE 7 to be released via Windows Update

CNET reports via Slashdot that IE 7 will be pushed to installations of Windows not yet branded as pirated (yes, the Genuine check will have to be run…AGAIN) via Windows Update later this year. The installation will be optional, though, with an upgrade screen which will permit users to choose to install it now, defer it for later, or say “no thanks.”

I’ve got mixed emotions about this one. Clearly I think IE 7 is a vast improvement over IE 6 (I run Beta 3 at work) because it does fix a few things that have bothered me in IE 6 for the last five years (PNG-alpha support, etc.), and it wouldn’t bother me one iota if my IE 6 visitors started transitioning to IE 7 rapidly.

That being said, IE 7 is a major, major upgrade. CSS hacks supported in previous versions of IE won’t be supported anymore, which will break a LOT of Web sites. My advice to Web developers? Get Beta 3 now, put it on a machine (you should still keep a box around with IE 6 for the present) and start a round of rigorous testing and fixing to make sure that when the final upgrade hits, all the sites you may operate will make the transition smoothly. I can imagine a majority of current IE 6 users will make the migration when prompted, and I for one hope they do, because I’ve been absolutely itching to use 24-bit transparent PNGs on my sites since I found out what they were, and haven’t been able to because the IE workaround is such a pain. ;)