Ten Tidbits from IE8

October 10, 2008

I keep up to date on Internet Explorer development for two reasons. Firstly, most users are on Internet Explorer. Secondly, browser innovation and competition is fascinating. Anyone who thought browsers were mature a few years ago is now being proven very wrong. And so I present some of the most interesting additions in IE8. ((If you want to follow IE8 development, check out IEBlog. It’s nice to see Microsoft opening up their development process on such a vital piece of software.))

Seeing Microsoft compete on browser UI is interesting. They’re incorporating ideas from Google Chrome so fast, it’s like they came up with them independently. ((Update: To be clear, IE8 Beta 2 came out 6 days before Chrome Beta 1 was released. It really is possible they came up independently, but doubtful. My bet is that Microsoft knew what Google was working on (a lot of people internally at Google had seen Chrome), and of course Google had seen IE8 Beta 1.)) Ha ha, just kidding. IE8 users will notice:

  • Chrome’s New Tab Page

  • Chrome and Safari’s Private Browsing Mode

  • Opera and Firefox’s Automatic crash recovery

  • Somewhere between Chrome’s and Firefox’s Address Bar with search suggestions. ((I should give them some credit here. Their implementation has what I think is a real innovation, which is the ability to delete any potentially scandalous history items from within the suggestion bar. I love to see location bar innovation.))

  • Tab Grouping with automatic colour-coding - probably the most original and the weirdest thing they’ve added to IE8

Okay, so it looks like they’ve taken enough from other browsers to get users to upgrade. This is good news, since the developer-side improvement from IE7 to IE8 will be a bigger jump than we’ve seen this century. Microsoft has been busily (and sometimes controversially) announcing standards-oriented developer features:

  • Adding Compatibility View, where developers or users can tell IE8 to emulate IE7

  • Adding the new developer tools that I posted about recently

  • Coming much closer to CSS 2.1 than IE7 was; in my testing maybe 90% closer

  • Prefixing all non-standardized CSS properties with -ms; even CSS3 ones like word-wrap

  • Working on some performance gains, albeit nothing compared to The Other Guys

At the end of the day, it’s a great time to be a web developer, since the lowest common denominator is rising. It’s also a great time to be a web user, since Safari, Firefox, and Chrome developers will have to push that much harder to stay ahead in the new browser wars.

© Allen Pike. See also Twitter and Steamclock.