The danger of a better Internet Explorer

So the first beta of Internet Explorer 7 has been released. The reports from those who have tried it point towards the current version seems pretty much what I was anticipating. Security fixes, tabbed browsing, and not much more, i.e. little to no improvement of its support for HTML and CSS.

But according to a post by Chris Wilson at the IEBlog this is just the beginning, and the next beta will have much, much better support for HTML and CSS. In fact, nearly all of the most annoying CSS bugs and unimplemented features are listed as being fixed in beta 2. Great news! Or is it?

(By the way, I thought beta software was supposed to be feature complete -- shouldn't this then have been called IE7 alpha?).

A properly working Internet Explorer browser will make the lives of web developers a lot easier and less stressful once it's in widespread use and IE6 can be safely ignored. How long that will take remains to be seen. I'm guessing four or five years. So that is something to look forward to.

Still, I am slightly worried about the web as a whole. If the current beta of IE7 had been what will eventually ship as IE7, it would have made it easier for other browsers to continue grabbing market share and force even the most ignorant web developers to strive towards building browser independent websites.

But with the greatly increased support for web standards that looks like it will be part of the shipping IE7, I'm worried that IE will take back some of what it has lost over the last couple of years. Not so much in the general public's image of the browser as in the minds of developers. Many developers and geeks are early adopters and have helped push Firefox to where it is now. Some may switch back to IE now that it will hold up much better to the competition.

So what? A good, standards compliant browser is a good browser whether it is made by Microsoft or not. Oh yes, it is, and well done to Microsoft for finally getting with the program. Thank you! (I mean that.)

The threat does not come from Microsoft as much as from the many, many web developers hacks who do not believe there is a place on the web for people like me that are stupid enough to use anything but Internet Explorer on a computer running Windows.

If IE regains all of its lost market share, these people will once again be tempted to build public websites that rely on proprietary features that only work in IE, and only on Windows. I'm not talking CSS or visual effects here. Think sites that require ActiveX, VBScript or Windows-specific Java applets to work. And that would take us back to the end of last century, before the web standards movement got going.

When you look at it that way there is a chance that it would have been better for the overall health of the web if IE7 had not featured improved web standards support. Think I'm wrong? I hope I am.

Posted on August 14, 2005 in Web Standards, Browsers