Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Why Internet Explorer will never be a ‘cool’ browser

So IE9 was released last week and there was a flurry of tweets & blog posts about its problems and this got me thinking about IE as a browser and why, IMHO, it is unlikely that IE will ever be a cool browser.

So lets break the problems down in much the same way that the blog posts & tweets did: Installation, upgrade cycle, previous versions, performance, display.


Many tweets and a few blog posts complained about the need for a reboot once installation was complete or that when they came to install IE9 that it requested a number of apps be shut down before proceeding.

The reason behind this as far as I can make out is the tight integration between IE9 and hardware via the OS, which effectively means that your new shiny web browser is really an extension of the OS its running on rather than a separate application.

This then is the reason that you have to close programs, or at worst reboot, and in fact in a positive light the fact that for many people they only have to close programs rather than reboot could be seen as a big step forward.

Upgrade Cycle

Now there’s a couple of reasons that I can see that will mean IE won’t ever have an upgrade cycle like Chrome or Firefox, the first one we’ve touched on already being the tight coupling to the OS the other reason is the use of IE in the enterprise.

So if we have a browser coupled to the OS making changes is going to be difficult since any change to the underlying OS due to a patch could effect you and also something you do in developing the browser could cause a problem in the OS.  This then leads to a slower development cycle as you need to ensure everything is ok as you develop so that you don’t end up with an unstable application or worst OS.

Within the enterprise space I would bet fairly heavily that IE is the dominant browser and in this IE could be a victim of its own success. Most enterprises don’t move versions of software very quickly as they will want to make sure that all software that they have which uses the browser isn’t broken by implementing a new version, and in my own experience I’ve actually seen software that works with IE6 but not with IE7 or above.  What this can then lead to is problems with other software having to be upgraded/altered before a new browser can be rolled out which can be expensive which can lead to no change at all.

Since Microsoft listen to their bigger enterprise customers it may have an impact on the release cycles since as much as we geeks bitch about it we don’t actually contribute to the profits in a big way like the medium & large enterprises do.

Previous Versions

More than one blog pointed out that there are now 4 different versions of IE ‘in the wild’ but IE is not alone in this as Firefox also has 4 and I’m willing to bet there are other browsers out there that still have older versions.  Look hard enough and you’ll probably find an IE4 somewhere.

There will always be older versions of applications be they web browsers or any other software it is a decision to be made by a business as to what they will support, IE is not alone in this so I don’t think any blame can be attached to it.


The speed of any of the browsers is a hotly contested thing and IE9 was touted as being very fast and I will admit I never found IE9 to be any faster, then I found this article which shows a decent comparison between Chrome, Firefox & IE9 and explained why.

It would seem that if you installed the 32-bit version of IE9 you got the new JavaScript engine but if you installed the 64-bit version you got the IE8 JavaScript engine.

Now I think that this is pretty unforgivable, if you’re going to release a new app with a new JavaScript engine to make it fast it should be supported on all versions, if not then why release that particular version? (thinking of 64-bit here)

So I’m going to be uninstalling my 64-bit version and installing the 32-bit version to see how fast IE9 appears to be for me.


There weren’t many people complaining about display issues but this article showed that for some people IE still isn’t complying with standards or even a modern browser but I haven’t seen many blogs or tweets that are specifically complaining about these display issues.


So why won’t IE be a cool browser?

  1. Always likely to need a reboot due to tight coupling to OS
  2. Tightly coupled to OS which means slower release cycles
  3. Used in larger enterprises so pressure from them to not upgrade so quickly
  4. Some display issues and question marks over if its support of standards

Does all this mean IE9 won’t be a success? of course not! IE9 will be a success because most of the people on the internet aren’t geeks and if they are using windows they will update when Windows update pushes the app to them.

Having said that, it still doesn’t make it cool.

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