Microsoft Internet Explorer 7 tries to play catch-up to Firefox

I usually avoid IT issues, but when it comes to comparisons of IE and Firefox I am outspoken.

After wiping out Netscape, Microsoft got lazy and avoided any significant improvements to IE – a typical MS pattern – making life for all of us miserable. Here’s how the pattern works: Wipe out your competition by offering for free what they offered for a price, and bundle it into the Windows operating system and claim it’s an indispensable part of the overall OS that can’t be left out. Then, after your competitor falls on his sword, Microsoft forgets all about it, jumping to improve the product only after the imminent threat of competition looms over them.

And what a threat Firefox turned out to be! Its elegance and simplicity make IE look downright medieval. The joys of tabbed browsing literally transform your online experience, especially if you are a blogger – you can easily hop from story to story to grap copy, with all tabs visible in a single window. Only now, years after Firefox changed the way the world works, is Microsoft playing copycat and adding tabbed browsing to IE.

All Microsoft seems able to do is try, rather feebly, to catch up with Firefox. Walt Mossberg, the most important IT reporter in the country (only because no one else comes close when it comes to influencing the public’s buying choices) had this to say.

I have been testing IE 7, and I agree with Microsoft that it’s much improved. If you are a confirmed IE user, upgrading to this new version makes perfect sense, because it is likely to be more secure and its new features make Web browsing better. But if you are already using Firefox, IE’s main competitor, I see nothing in IE 7 that should make you switch. It’s mostly a catch-up release, adding to IE some features long present in Firefox and other browsers. The one big feature in IE 7 that wasn’t already in Firefox, a built-in detector that warns against fraudulent Web sites, is being added to Firefox in version 2.0.

The new Internet Explorer, which is free, runs only on the latest revision of Windows XP and the forthcoming Windows Vista operating system, while Firefox offers nearly identical versions for Windows, Macintosh and Linux computers. IE 7 will be offered automatically to Windows XP users — gradually over the next few months — via the Windows update program. Microsoft will also make it available for manual download….

But the most important new security feature in IE 7 — something called Protected Mode, which stops Web sites from changing your computer’s important files or settings — will work only in the new Vista version of Windows, due next year, not in Windows XP.

Ironically, the improved security in the new version may erode IE’s greatest strength: its broad compatibility with Web sites. Some sites may not work properly in IE 7 because techniques they used are blocked by the new security features.

In addition to matching IE 7’s antiphishing warning feature, Firefox 2.0 will feature a spell checker, a system for suggesting popular search terms, and a way to resume where you left off after a crash, among other things.

The new Internet Explorer is a solid upgrade, but it’s disappointing that after five years, the best Microsoft could do was to mostly catch up to smaller competitors.

Disappointing, but not at all surprising. In fact, it was depressingly predictable. I cringe when I go to Internet cafes in Asia, where there is no choice but to use IE. And since most of the computers in these Internet cafes are antiques, I doubt we’ll be seeing many of them upgrading to the new version of IE anytime soon. What a trail of misery, pain and mediocrity Microsoft has left in its wake, making life unnecessarily miserable for so many of its customers.

Update: If it was unclear to anyone, I don’t like Microsoft.

UPDATE 2: My company just issued this global email:

IE 7 compatibility issues with [company name] systems
Date/Time: October 19, 2006 / 1:30 PM (EDT)

Notice: Microsoft has just released a new version of their web browser called Internet Explorer version 7. This new version is currently not compatible with all of our applications, including eRoom’s and Time Entry. If you connect to the company systems from a home computer we advise you to not upgrade to this version at this time. I.T. will notify the company when applications become compatible.

Luckily we finally became Firefox-compatible earlier this year. This tells me that once again even more customers will be cursing Microsoft in the days ahead.

The Discussion: 9 Comments

Here here! Vive Le Firefox! I can’t wait for 2.0.

October 19, 2006 @ 1:13 pm | Comment

Actually, I switch to IE7 from FF. IE7’s own feeds reader’s pretty cool, and I also like the new compact interface. FF is always great, but IE’s also improving, and has become more stable than ever. The broad compatibility is its edge. At least, you cannot log in online banks in China without IE.

October 19, 2006 @ 2:52 pm | Comment

how about those IE7 one-click RSS features?

October 19, 2006 @ 5:48 pm | Comment

Cheryl, it couldn’t have gotten any worse. It had no where to go but up.

NSU, I haven’t seen it yet. What makes it special?

October 19, 2006 @ 7:02 pm | Comment

I’ll stick with FF. You can install it or run a portable (doesn’t need to be installed) version. IE has a compact interface, but so does Opera. You can make FF more compact two ways: remove tool bars or view pages in full screen mode (F11). Opera has both beat when it comes to processing Javascript.

The one thing that puts FF over the top are the extensions and control that it puts into a user’s hands. IE is tough to configure. FF is easy and there are tons of extensions that help you do just about anything. Not to mention all the developer tools: DOM explorer, Javascript debuggers and HTTP header viewers.

BTW you can use the FF 2.0RC version now. It’s quite stable. One last thing about FF. The 2.0 version has an integrated spell checker.

October 19, 2006 @ 7:14 pm | Comment

They’ve already found the first security problem in IE 7 – yesterday, apparently.

No matter what they try, because Microsoft is full of trained monkeys and they release software based on estimated profit than when it’s ready, stuff like IE will always be bugged. If anyone wonders why they have monthly updates, it’s so that users won’t be scared by the milliards of bugs they find every week (which would be exposed if they fixed them when they’re found).

Firefox, on the other hand, is updated regularly (when necessary) and because it’s open to members of the public, bugs are easy to indentify and resolve. So I will not be downloading IE 7 manually – Firefox is still the way to go. 🙂

October 20, 2006 @ 1:46 am | Comment

@Cheryl: Broad compatibility? Now, granted, I’ve not checked the specs on the new version and if this has been improved in IE7 I apologize, but IE is the absolutely WORST browser to design for. It is the bane of any CSS designer’s existance as it bucks all standards, basically saying “Standards… um… WE’LL make the standards thank you.”

I use online banking in China with firefox. What’s the problem?

October 20, 2006 @ 9:18 am | Comment

Who cares? Oh, you do!

IE7 is better than FF.
Windows is better than Apple OS (insert animal here).
Money is better than Quicken.
Exchange is better than Notes.

Ask me how I know this? All together, none of the above equal no more than 5% of the market. What that means is that people, real people, are choosing to use Microsoft products. They are not forced to. At any time, any of them could choose any other OS or product. But only 5% do. If these other products were so good, why aren’t more people using them?

Oh yeah, and FF is a memory hog, it slows computers to a complete halt. Probably because of all those security holes in it.

@lostlaowai: I don’t believe you’ve ever checked CSS standards…or any HTML standards. Please actually check them before spreading lies.

@cheryl: you rock my world.

@raj: it is clear you do not understand economics. did you get a B.S. degree?

@shaun: you should learned to spell in school. are you now going to proclaim that FF helps your brain process information or did you skip all your classes.

@richard: hola mi amigo! 🙂

.NET is better than Java.

October 23, 2006 @ 10:44 pm | Comment

Betamax was better than VHS, Apple’s OS was and is better than Microsoft’s – there are many examples of the better product coming in second. Market share doesn’t mean quality. Gates was smart and shrewd and thanks to his brilliant licensing agreement with IBM, and IBM’s decision to license the PC itsel, the PC won and Gates won. It was strictly a matter of price for many years, when Apple was WAY more expensive. In that time, Wintel cornered the market, but even most PC users would tell you, I believe, that they think Mac is better.

Good to see you DD – I wish you would come in at the beginning of these threads as opposed to the end!

October 24, 2006 @ 9:35 am | Comment

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