Monday, June 28th, 2010

IE9: Big leap forward, and how we can help the Microsoft momentum

Category: Browsers, IE

Microsoft continues to impress with its developer preview releases for IE9. They went from a laggard in both performance and Web standards, to regrouping and doing some fantastic work in both regards.

The honourable PPK has detailed the leap forward with CSS (in between watching his Dutch team do well in the World Cup. Not that I am friggin jealous ;)

The sea of green on the CSS compat tables is fantastic news for the Web:

More on IE9 and CSS from PPK:

IE9 promises to be an excellent browser. Its CSS support is now at par with that of the other browsers — although each browser still has its specific areas where it performs less. But we cannot in good faith say that IE is behind the others any more.

There are only a very few declarations in my test that IE9 does not support. CSS columns, gradients, text-shadow, resize, and text-stroke are the only ones, and the latter two are WebKit-only.

Even better news: Microsoft’s filters seem to have just disappeared from IE9. It supports normal opacity; no more filters required. Also, the gradient filter is gone, leaving IE (temporarily?) not supporting it.

Another golden oldie that got dropped is cursor: hand, the MS proprietary alternative to cursor: pointer. That’s not really important in practice (IE6 already supported both syntaxes), but it’s a powerful symbol of the changes that the IE team has wrought.

With so much excellence around I was almost glad when I found one single bug: IE9 doesn’t handle white-space: pre-line right. This bug will be fixed, though. It’s typically a minor point that crops up in a beta and is removed from the final product.

And, it isn’t just CSS that is turning green. Kangax does a fantastic job at looking at JScript and the DOM. Not only does he show the good, but also the areas that still need improvement such as:

Unfortunately, the entire host objects infrastructure still looks very similar to the one from IE8. Host objects don’t inherit from Object.prototype, don’t report proper typeof, and don’t even have basic properties like “length” or “prototype”, which all function objects must have.

Kangax is doing a lot of good here. The more tests and call outs on what IE needs to do to be standards compliant the better. With the new rate of progress from the IE team, it isn’t like the old days where you thought you were talking to deaf ears. Microsoft is listening, and even better than that, they are doing. Now is the time to give them as much info as we can.

What would you like to see?

Posted by Dion Almaer at 4:35 pm

4 rating from 2 votes


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– FileReader and FileWriter
– HTML5 Forms

Comment by randomrandom — June 28, 2010

to win the browser war, or at least catch-up the group IE must be a webkit of standards, chrome of speed, firefox of customization and opera of innovativeness (and beauty)…

Comment by Herhor — June 28, 2010

Anyone know what technologies are being used to develop the new IE9? C++, .Net or something else?

Comment by elalecs — June 28, 2010

elalecs, It’s almost certainly C or C++ in the rendering core and the JScript engine (this is just an educated guess, based on the technologies used in other vendors’ rendering and scripting engines; I have no inside knowledge of Trident).

As for UI code, previews of the last two versions of IE shipped in a fully capable (but unfinished of course) UI, whereas this preview hasn’t, so it’s conceivable they are reworking the UI (in which case it’s possible they’d use .NET/WPF, giving those technologies a much-needed flagship application to inspire other developers), but only time will tell.

Comment by eyelidlessness — June 28, 2010

@Herhor, so, in order to ‘at least catch-up’, IE has to be equal or better than the best browser in every category? I think it’s more reasonable to say that they will have basically caught up if they support canvas, svg, all new HTML5 tags, the most basic CSS3 (you know, the stuff that doesn’t require a vendor prefix in other browsers), and decent js speed. Customization and Innovation are not requirements for catching up. It seems clear at this point that they will catch up and then some.

But still no version of any browser made by Microsoft should ever be used by anyone. IE9 might be the best browser available in 2011. Can we trust that MS is going to keep at it? Come on, we’ve seen this movie before.

Comment by okonomiyaki3000 — June 28, 2010

I would like to see them practically force users to upgrade. I realize this isn’t plausable for some corporate environments (geez, update your webapps, guys) but they should make it at least difficult not to upgrade.

Comment by whyisjasontaken — June 28, 2010

I’d like to see CSS transitions, animations, gradients, box shadow, text shadow … mainly lots of cool CSS stuff.

Comment by fredclown — June 28, 2010

Seriously no text-shadow? Have they at all looked at the majority of css3 adoption? It’s nearly all text-shadow, box-shadow, border-image… rawrrr

Comment by jlukic — June 29, 2010

What I meant by “cach-up” was not only get to the same level of usability, speed, etc. but also in users opinion.
Regaining users trust will require something more than just avarage.
There are many people who would say – no matter how good IE is – it’s bad.

Comment by Herhor — June 29, 2010

I think we want to help the Microsoft *momentum*.

Comment by oesterle — June 29, 2010

If Microsoft is really listening then here’s a suggestion of something they should add support for in IE9 – WINDOWS XP!

I know windows 7 adoption has been better than vista, but the majority of users are still running XP & probably will be when 9 is released, rendering it still majorly useless.

Unless they do that I can’t really see adoption becoming that high.
It’s cool & all that we’ll have _yet another_ browser with a nice set of capabilities, but it’s still another one to add to the list, & it doesn’t look like it’s majorly set to replace the ie6, 7 & 8 crowds.

Heck, it’s not even like we can gently suggest that users upgrade to it. “You appear to be running an old version of internet explorer. This site will look better if you upgrade your entire operating system, then install IE 9” … so it doesn’t really balance out against the firefox, chrome, & chromeframe referral schemes

Comment by ProPuke — June 29, 2010


IE9 builds on top of new Windows APIs, particularly Direct2D, that just don’t exist in Windows XP. It’s the use of these APIs that have allowed them to enhance IE9 as quickly as they have. Things have moved on, and XP is just as outdated as IE6. Both of them need to die, and I’d rather Microsoft delivered a decent modern browser for Windows 7 that one crippled by its need to support an obsolete OS.

Comment by Amtiskaw — June 29, 2010

Maybe they will finally remove the “mozilla”-part from their useragent string?… Of course that would be ironic as IE9 looks like it’ll be closer now to a mozilla-browser than it ever was :P

Comment by rasmusfl0e — June 29, 2010

@ProPuke – that’s funny, we want everyone to update to the latest version of Internet Explorer but still support an OS that’s around ten years old. That makes total sense.

Comment by travisalmand — June 29, 2010

My experience with IE more than the other browsers isn’t just it’s lack of standards, it’s the amazingly difficult time I have understanding what exactly is going wrong. This might be partly due to the poor quality of the dev tools available for IE, but it also feels like the bugs aren’t straight-forward. I find things like (this is a made-up example) “bottom margin of div collapses if sibling div is set to display:none but only if both are in a position:relative block.” It just feels messy with spaghetti work-arounds with no attention to details…

I’m not sure what IE9 will feel like. They might well be plowing through a checklist with no regard for consistency or the edge cases.

I hope I’m wrong!

Comment by jamienk — June 29, 2010

– BORDER-IMAGE <– cannot stress this enough. More important than .
– CSS Animation
– CSS 2D Transformations
– CSS 3D Transformations

Comment by Baryn — June 29, 2010

– RGBa

Comment by Baryn — June 29, 2010

The improvements in IE9 are incredibly impressive. Not just the quality of internals, but their communication, preview releases, and adherence to standards. They did a great preso at Velocity, and there was a real buzz amongst the (very performance focused) attendees. And I can assure you they are listening, esp. to the high quality of comments here.

Comment by souders — June 29, 2010

How “we” can help we can help the Microsoft momentum?? What???

Sounds like a bad guy who just committed (for the 9th time) that he is going to finally be a good boy. should we all get together and help him?

Comment by adardesign — June 29, 2010

Helping Microsoft make a better browser makes our job easier. I’m tired of hacking together workarounds.

IE Team:
Css transforms and animations, box shadow, text shadow and…

WEB GL. I repeat…WEB GL. And if you could hardware enable that too, I’ll take back all the negative stuff I said about supporting IE 6, I’ll even write a blog post on how much I actually like it entitled “The TAO of IE 6 Support” :)

Comment by someguynameddylan — June 29, 2010

@travisalmand @Amtiskaw – My point was that microsoft could do a lot of extra good by including backward support for xp.
Yes yes.. old (non-standardised) technologies need to die, people need to move on.. We are all unanimous on this. I am saying nothing to the contrary.
Something we can also agree on is that we need to make this transition as easy as possible for users.
The efforts of developing a gdi compatibility layer would be rewarded by helping to move on the 50-60% of windows users still running XP.
Of course I can see the advantages of microsoft building up publicity for their shiny new browser, that ticks all the boxes for developers, & sports support for fancy new hardware accelerated effects & sites with awesome interactive content. And then the kicker at the end of the tv ad – Available for new windows 7! Starting at £90 / €90 / $110!
The development of a new standards-compliant version of internet explorer is an excellent opportunity to move on current users, but instead this opportunity is being shrugged off.
It’s development is still a good thing. But this would also be a great opportunity for helping to move on those users.

Comment by ProPuke — June 30, 2010

You may convince people to upgrade the browser to see the new shiny stuff, but new OS costs money and requires more powerful machines, and that’s just not going to happen.

Make your numbers: upgrade your machine to windows 7 or just download chrome and get going. It’s about getting real.

I like the results that the IE team are getting, but they are running uphill against one of the holy cows of Microsoft. I don’t see the current browser tendency changing unless they start supporting XP and force the upgrade.

Comment by icoloma — June 30, 2010

If the IE team supports XP, it will be without hardware-accelerated graphics. This will produce a difference in behavior of the browser between those on XP and those on newer windows versions. That’s bad. It also means their rendering engine has to be designed in such a way that Direct2D can be easily replaced by GDI. That probably isn’t the case. So that’s also bad.

Comment by Joeri — June 30, 2010

There are some major differences between the issues of upgrading XP and upgrading IE6. One is that the serious bugs in XP were gradually fixed with patches. XP does everything I want, and doesn’t cause me any annoyances. Also, XP doesn’t have to be compatible with competing Operating Systems. It’s not holding other operating systems back. The only thing that could have got me to upgrade from XP voluntarily is if the next OS had been exactly the same as XP but was faster and required less RAM, and even that would be a luxury that I don’t really need. Vista and Windows 7 make my eyes bleed. I cry a little bit on the rare occasion I have to open Office 2007 to do something, or when I am persuaded to help someone on their Windows 7 machine.
I feel the same way about the last 4 versions of Adobe Illustrator. Nothing new has been added that I need or even desire. Eventually I am forced to upgrade because I start getting files I can’t open in the older version that does all that I desire except allow me to open newer files.
So now that the OS does pretty much all that we want, now we want the same experience on the web. That is where IE6 lacks. It lacks because apps in the browser aren’t as cool as native apps yet. Once that occurs, browser innovation, and the demand for it, will slow down just like it has with operating systems. Attention will shift elsewhere.
Here’s an analogy. When you only have 16 colors, things feel seriusly lacking. Then you get 256, and it’s better, but still seriously lacking. This continues until you have 24 and 32 bit color. Now there isn’t a sense of anything really lacking. Making 1024 bit color isn’t going to be a very good selling point since the 24 bit is fine. That’s pretty much how XP is for me.
For the last couple years I’ve been pretty much happy with my download and upload speeds. These could be better for downloading large apps, but for daily stuff like watching streaming video the web has caught up with my desires. This is in vast contrast to the previous 30 years where downloading stuff was always a pain. Yeah, a 100 gig download speed would be nice, but it’s not something I feel like I need. It’s pretty rare that I am downloading anything more than a 5th of that size.

Comment by GregHouston — June 30, 2010

@GregHouston: you’re just getting old ;) Then again, I was just reminiscing about how productive I was on NT4, so I guess I’m getting old too.
Speaking to your point, I have to disagree. The problem with the native desktop is that it’s stuck in a rut. Desktop apps are not paragons of usability, but we’ve all gotten so used to them that we’ve started to confuse familiarity with usability. The web offers a new opportunity to do better. We’re starting to see the first baby steps, like web office apps removing that ridiculous save button and limiting file system hierarch, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
By the way, you should really give office 2007 a fair chance (use it for a month). IMHO it’s the best version of office, especially because of the new UI (once it’s locked into muscle memory, it’s way better than the old one).

Comment by Joeri — July 1, 2010

About time Microsoft started to act. They really have to show off what they can do in IE9. I’m just sceptic on how long it will take before people really made the shift to the new IE once it launches. Let’s hope Microsoft will push it. Like Google does with Chrome.

Comment by weareworkingonit — October 28, 2010

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