First impressions of Internet Explorer 8 Beta 1

So Microsoft released the first beta of Internet Explorer 8 to the public the other day. Press releases and documents on the IE 8 site contain plenty of exciting promises of new and improved features, such as:

  • Full and complete CSS 2.1 support
  • Partial CSS 3 support
  • Better JavaScript performance
  • Fixes for a number of long-standing JavaScript bugs
  • Built-in developer tools
  • WAI-ARIA support

It all sounds very promising, but if you’re hoping for IE 8 Beta 1 to catch up with other contemporary browsers, you’d better lower your expectations a bit. I had high hopes after reading about the new features and improved support for standards Microsoft are aiming for in IE 8, but after trying out Beta 1 I have to say that I am a little disappointed.

Yeah I know, I know. It’s a beta version, so bugs and problems are to be expected. I still thought IE 8 Beta 1 would be more polished than it is. Anyway, here are some of the areas I have looked a little closer at.

CSS 2.1

Microsoft have made it clear that they aren’t done with the CSS 2.1 implementation yet and that there is much more to come in Beta 2, so things will improve. After checking a bunch of the sites I’ve built recently in IE 8 Beta 1 I can verify that CSS 2.1 support is not complete – some things break. Full CSS 2.1 support is very, very promising though, so I really hope the IE team manages to fulfill this promise.

Built-in developer tools

Internet Explorer is in desperate need of a reliable debugging tool on par with Firebug, and IE 8 does have built-in developer tools for CSS and JavaScript debugging. Great!

I suppose it’s unfair to compare IE 8’s developer tools to the excellent Firebug extension, but it can’t be helped. Firebug has set the bar for what any browser based developer tools need to match.

Unfortunately IE 8’s developer tools are currently very lacking in features, look very unpolished, and seem quite buggy. They don’t come anywhere close to Firebug. Like CSS 2.1 support, Microsoft is open about the developer tools not being finished, so they will hopefully be much improved in the next beta release.


Since IE 8 still refuses to resize text sized in pixels, zoom functionality is very important for people who need larger text. Zooming in IE 7 is a mess, and it is supposed to be improved in IE 8. So is it?

Well… yes and no. Zooming is less likely to create massive horizontal scrollbars than in IE 7, but it has major problems on some sites, where zooming just one step completely destroys the layout (try it on this site to see what I mean). Talk about breaking the web… Zoom appears to need more work before it becomes usable.

Looking forward to Beta 2

I realise I may be coming across as being a bit negative here, but I was really hoping for more after Microsoft’s surprising move to let IE 8 use its most compliant standards mode by default. I guess I was hoping for too much at this stage.

To end this on a positive note, it’s excellent to see the improvements mentioned on the IE 8 website. Beta 2 is sure to deliver much more than Beta 1, and I’m looking forward to it.

Posted on March 7, 2008 in Browsers


  1. It’s exciting to see the IE Team taking a stance on web standards, there’s been some great info coming out of there recently.

    I think there were a lot of people disappointed with the “unfinished” state of IE8, but I think it’s important to remember what Chris Wilson said at MIX.

    Beta 1 is an early, developer-focused look.

    I’m extremely excited about the direction that IE is going, and looking forward to future betas of IE8, they should be much better.

  2. Look like to an Alpha release, but don’t give up hope :)

  3. I’m very glad you’ve pointed out that the CSS isn’t complete. I was crest-fallen to discover that it doesn’t seem to support CSS generated content when I checked out my own blog in IE8.

    I’m also a bit disappointed that you can’t run IE8 mode and IE7 mode at the same time. You have to close all browser windows and re-open before the switch works properly (you can switch via the mentioned Developer Tools, but doing so won’t cause it to read IE7 conditional comments, even though it does switch to the IE7 layout engine)

  4. Thanks for sharing your impressions.

    Of all the planned features I really do hope they get full CSS 2.1 support right. Having to develop/debug websites for different browsers should be a thing of the past.

  5. OMG, what happened to your site when you zoom!

    I also see problems with the comments form - clicking doesn’t always select the input fields. (And it doesn’t show all of the fields unless they are in focus (ie: clicked into)). Text is shown cut off.

  6. The IE team still has a lot of work to do. I had high hopes but was left disappointed due to the amount of bugs in it. Let’s hope beta 2 will weed those out.

    The browser also seems to crash when content: is used in a hover.

    All things considered, I think IE8 will make our lives a lot easier.

  7. March 7, 2008 by Duluoz

    I am very disappointed about this beta Roger. You make some valid observations though. There is another great article over at Anne Van Kesteren’s blog on some of the bad things to watch out for in IE8 that are imperative you read and watch out for:

  8. When it comes to zooming, no browser does it better than Opera. Its implementation is nothing short of spectacular, and to be able to zoom the entire page – including text, images and plugin-content like Flash – using the +/- buttons, really makes a difference when you’re browsing the web.

    Hopefully the zooming in IE8 will be improved upon (I’m sure it will, the developers are working really hard on this release), as I believe it’s one of the most important accessibility features in a browser.

  9. I was very disappointed with IE 8 beta and how poorly it rendered my site even when my site rendered fine in 6, 7 and other browsers. Before I fired the browser up I was expecting no changes since the browser was to support standards more than in the past and not create new bugs. Hopefully these are just beta bugs that are normal.

  10. I can only hope that Beta 2 works on the aspects of CSS implementation that you have mentioned. I think Microsoft doesn’t realize that it will make their life a lot easier to focus on these bugs now, finally and once and for all get them fixed, so that people actually have a better choice in what type of browser they use. One of the problems with Microsoft accepting this is the fact that the average internet user does not understand the amount of offering in terms of web browsers available to them, as they are just a casual user who surfs the internet for simple news or simple searches. In other words, aside from developers and designers, people out there really don’t expect much from their browser.

  11. March 7, 2008 by ChristianD

    Hadn’t much time to play around with it, but it was really fast I must say. As Apple set the standard with the Safari 3 for Windows beta release when it comes to buggy software, I would consider IE 8 beta a masterpiece.

    I guess it depends on what is the focus for the release.

  12. People who for some mentally deranged reason prefer IE, should simply Maxthon and be done with it.

    Instead of poring stupidly on IE8 or whatever drivel their overpaid, overworked, underguided team can come up with, Microsoft should simply acquire the Maxthon team. It is FAR beyond what IE8 seems to be vying for. The zooming etc is pretty neat and clean too, not to mention the other features that at least compare to Firefox/Opera, or in some cases beat both.

  13. I jumped on board pretty quickly with IE7 and regretted that I moved so quickly (ended up forcing me do a bunch of work that I really didn’t need to do had I just waited). Thus, with IE8 I decided to wait until I see a release candidate. I appreciate you and others shaking it down, though. At least it’s giving me a heads up, albeit some of it won’t be applicable later.

    I do like the idea of having the IE7 button I’ve been hearing about so I will be able to avoid the multiple versions issues needed for site testing. Despite what Matt mentioned in the comments above, I have heard from others you can switch on the fly without closing the browser, you just have to go to a new page then back and it’ll switch. Not sure what story is right, but either way it’s an improvement.

  14. It does seem like this beta was really just rushed out to be seen and available at MIX. I don’t see why you would claim a lot of things and then say, but the beta doesn’t have those yet. That means there is still work to do, this isn’t testing a nearly ready product.

    I look forward to Release Candidates too, that’s where I started with IE7 and it seemed to work out.

  15. It’s a beta version

    Whatever happened to the definition of Beta as “feature-complete, but needs testing”? Seems that nowadays, no browser developer cares at all about that anymore. Beta 1 is always of Alpha quality.

  16. One thing that bugs me in IE 7 is the rendering of anti-aliased text, on some sites it makes text even harder to read, especially at smaller sizes. Is this in IE 8? But bravo on moving to standards compliant mode.

  17. Hi Roger

    I finding many bugs in IE8. The biggest ones are for the display table properties. Any author who has used

    display:table or display:table-cell

    for the better browsers will most likely now find their pages exploding. I have a new page up which is tracking old IE bugs that are still happening in IE8 or new bugs in IE8.

    BTW, this is one page that explodes in IE8.

  18. reliable debugging tool on par with Firebug

    I kid you not, but FireBug crashes my FireFox on every page with google ads. No matter how much I love the tool, it’s pretty unstable.

    As for catching up with current browsers, Safari and especially FireFox are giving me way much more headaches these last couple of months. But maybe that’s because a problem in IE can be easily fixed with conditional comments, as for Firefox, Safari and Opera … you’re screwed.

    I like what I’ve seen in IE8, looking forward to the second Beta.

  19. I installed the beta to get a first impression. I realise that it is not complete but the way some css based dropdown menu’s STOP working is quite worrying. Has anyone else seen this problem? I was beginning to worry I might have to re-work old sites.

  20. March 10, 2008 by Mike Loizides

    One thing that I noticed was that IE7 mode doesn’t produce the exact same result in Acid 2 as the real IE7.

  21. Its a step in the right direction for sure but still has a long way to go. The IE 7 render mode is cool. A heads up though, IE 8 broke all mys tand alone IE’s which is a bummer. Had to roll my XP install back.

  22. March 12, 2008 by ricardo

    Hi. Sorry for posting an unrelated comment but I didn’t have the time to find the right place.

    In your article “CSS Tips and Tricks Part I” you mention the use of * {margin: 0; padding: 0 } to reset these properties. That is very bad code, as it sets these rules for EVERY single element on the page, including all the unnecessary ones where it has no effect, slowing down the rendering. Using Eric Meyer’s css reset or other alternatives is best. Or don’t use anything and be very careful with the code!

  23. March 12, 2008 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)


    Yes, that is a completely unrelated comment ;-).

    I agree about using * {margin:0;padding:0;} being problematic. This site still uses it since I haven’t taken the time to replace it. I don’t think the biggest problem is rendering speed, but rather that it has unexpected and unreliable consequences for form controls.

  24. March 13, 2008 by Vector Edge

    I dont care about developer tools for IE, or any other proposed feature, the most important feature they can work on is CSS support. Its the biggest problem with IE. Yes the interface is like looking at a turd with hundreds and thousands sprinkled on top if it, but as a web developer thats not my problem.

    Microsoft, please just make it render CSS properly!!

    I’m totally over fixing perfectly good code just so it looks decent in F’n IE.

    It should be there absolute focus, Im glad to hear about the way they are giving people the choice in rendering, but especially pleased they are making IE8 the default renderer.

    What I would like is for IE8 to be a compulsory update for every windows user.

  25. When I was viewing some of my own websites in IE8 bèta, I noticed that IE8 doesn’t seem to render list-style-images. I did a quick search on google and it seems to be a bug, still strange, as IE7 renders it correct.

    But I still like this bèta, It’s really a step forward and it passes acid2 as well.

  26. 24: I disagree. Javascript support is more important. I have fought many wars with IE as a CSS developer, but it wasn’t until I started to develop in Javascript that I truly started to find really hard challenges where it sometimes became next to impossible to find other ways around. Hunting Javascript bugs in IE is a pain too; I error handling is a joke.

    CSS bugs are nowadays well documented. For javascript developers, there aren’t that many resources around.

  27. Hello all,

    Chris Hester is right. Clicking in the input text fields in your webpage does not focus those fields. That must be a bug of some sort.

    I agree that the use of the universal selector * {margin: 0; padding: 0;}

    to reset all elements’ margin and padding is bad, wrong and definitely not a recommendable practice.

    Gérard Talbot

  28. March 22, 2008 by Cecil Ward

    I very much agree with Sebastian Redl’s earlier comment. Software companies should stop misusing language and not describe such releases as “beta” when they are not considered feature-complete.

  29. March 26, 2008 by naudjf


    does IE8 still display the content of the “alt” when mouse is over the image ?

    THANX !

  30. March 26, 2008 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)


    does IE8 still display the content of the “alt” when mouse is over the image ?

    No, it looks like they finally fixed that bug, at least in standards mode.

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