IE7 Beta: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly February 2, 2006Posted by TimTheFoolMan in Computers, Technology, Workplace.
Recently, I hopped on the bleeding edge bandwagon (to mix a metaphor), and downloaded the new Internet Explorer 7 Beta. Given that IE isn’t my standard browser, I wasn’t all that concerned about changes to my browsing habits, or bugs that might disrupt proper display of Google’s home page or something like that.
What I forgot, is how deeply embedded IE is into Windows XP (a point that MS lawyers pounded into our collective consciousness during the anti-trust trials).
Let me start with the things I like. Right off the bat, you can see that the IE team has left any sense of NIH at the door and pushed ahead. Features made popular by Firefox, Safari, Opera, and others are immediately apparent: Tabbed browsing, zooming, RSS support, and so on.
One of the features I haven’t seen elsewhere (and it could be because I wasn’t paying attention), is the drop-down history list. In most browsers, you have “Go Forward” and a “Go Backward” buttons to navigate to other web pages you’ve viewed in this session. IE has these, but instead of having two separate drop downs (one for each button), there’s a single drop down list, and the current page is highlighted, in context, in the middle of that list. You can immediately see where you are, fore and aft, in the list of sites you’ve visted.
The second thing that really stuck out to me wasn’t a feature at all. It was the prompt response I received from Rocky on the IE Support Team. Just a few hours after I posted a harsh complaint (see below), Rocky responded with the following:
I understand that you are not satisfied on the text appearance of the new Internet Explorer 7 Beta. You need assistance on restoring your previous Internet Explorer text appearance. I apologize for any inconvenience this has caused you.
He then proceeded to give me helpful links to newsgroups and web-based support forums where questions like this were answered. Even more, when I responded back with additional detail, he thanked me for this, and passed along even more helpful info. This attitude, more than anything else, will help MS retain its dominance in the software industry.
If I’ve got something bad to say, I always like to start off in a “friendly way.” Sadly, my frustration with the new ClearType feature is so great, it almost makes me forget about the above. Here’s how it went.
After installing IE7 (and the subsequent restart, since unloading DLLs and loading new versions is something that none of the modern OS’s seem to be able to do without error), I immediately fired it up. Favorites imported? Check. Home page the same? Check. Let’s go to Google and…
…the text is fuzzy. What in the world?
Hmmm… the text is fine in MS Word, and it’s fine on the desktop. But every letterform that isn’t horizontal or vertical is fuzzy.
I’ve seen this before. Where was it? Oh yes… on a Mac, several years ago, when Adobe started doing postscript to the screen, but hadn’t yet worked out the nuances of font “hints.” I have no doubt that this is an artifact of using an LCD screen.
Maybe those aren’t that common on the MS campus.
The day was saved by a post to Robert Scoble’s blog where someone suggested that I go into IE’s Options page, click on the Advanced tab, and disable ClearType. This seemed counter-intuitive (I would have expected to disable the FuzzyType option), but after restarting IE, all was well again.
OK, so things aren’t quite perfect in IE7. I can always drop back to Firefox if this doesn’t work out. First, check my e-mail and the RSS feeds that automatically get dropped into Outlook Express.
Hold on… the text is fuzzy here too. Dang it! I forgot that OE uses the IE rendering engine for viewing HTML messages. That’s OK, I can disable HTML rendering and view all messages in plain text. At least this way, everything is readable, but annoying, because now the RSS feeds that embed graphics (one of the few places I would want graphics embedded in a message in OE) don’t display the graphic because of the plain text settin.
So I’ve not lost my ability to easily read RSS feeds and e-mails (thanks to ClearType), or I can switch and lose the graphics. Whatever… I’ll just click on one of the links in the RSS feed, so the text will be rendered correctly at the original site.
Well. That was interesting. Instead of opening the default browser (Firefox), it opened the following directory:
C:\Program Files\Common Files\System\MAPI\1033\nt
Nice. Very nice. Through the wonders of “integration,” I now have lost the connection between OE and my browser. The “benefit” of tight application integration has now broken an application that should be able to stand on its own. The past several years have shown us how this beneft turned into an enormous back door for all sorts of malware attacks at the very core of the OS, simply because of the single-minded push toward application integration (via DDE, COM/DCOM, and now code sharing at levels that can’t be disabled) that few people were asking for.
What’s next? Will an update to my X-Box controller firmware cause my Tivo remote control to stop working? Monocultures are risky, whether its in theology or technology. Regardless of the features, when it comes to Windows applications, there’s something to be said for avoiding a sole-source.