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IE is the worst… December 8, 2007

Posted by scriptmarket in stop internet explorer.
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You might rightfully ask on which basis can we dare to ask people to dump Internet Explorer. This page details our reasons, hopefully in a manner which will prove that the only way to keep Web free and make it better is to have it unrelated to Microsoft-only technologies.

Designed to assure Microsoft makes money: (1) it only works on Windows; (2) only one version can be installed per Windows instance.

1.   It only works on Windows

Internet Explorer only works on a Microsoft Windows “operating system”. This makes it a commercial product which you are required to pay for, because you need to buy Windows in order to be able to use Internet Explorer. This is how Microsoft makes money from developers that don’t use Windows.

I am a web developer. I use GNU/Linux as both server and workstation, not because Linux is free but because I like it and I simply feel much more confortable with it than I would with a Windows desktop. I make my applications conform to web standards and even though I only test them on my favorite browser, they work with any other standards compliant browser. But Internet Explorer in particular (and we’re talking about version 6, the latest) has certain compliance bugs that have been reported over and over but Microsoft does not fix them. This puts me in the situation of paying for a Windows license only to be able to run Internet Explorer, which makes it about $300–the most expensive Web browser.

2.   Only one version of IE can be installed at a time

As Microsoft makes you think, Internet Explorer is “a part of the operating system”, therefore you can’t uninstall it and you can’t have 2 different versions of it at the same time.

In consequence, if my client requires that my application works with IE 5.0, IE 5.5 and IE 6, then in order to test it I have to buy and install 3 (three!) different instances of the same Windows “operating system”, and most probably 3 different computers. This definitely makes it the most expensive browser in existence, given the fact that I don’t even use Windows.

It’s standards-compliance problems are intentionally left out so that more and more websites will wear the “IE required” stigma.

3.   It is not standards compliant

Remember our little discussion about Web standards, right? Well, here’s the interesting part: Internet Explorer does, to some extent, comply to Web standards. However, certain parts were intentionally left out and others were intentionally left buggy. This allows Microsoft to both claim that Internet Explorer is a standards-compliant browser and to make money for nothing given the first 2 points presented in this page.

What do we mean by intentionally?

There are important Web standards that were developed years ago but Microsoft Internet Explorer does not support them. Examples are:

  • PNG support. PNG is a highly efficient graphics format; here’s a petition, addressed to Microsoft about 4 years back, and signed by more than 11,000 people, that asks Microsoft to implement proper PNG support in their browser; expectedly, Microsoft did nothing about it.

    Q: “When will IE get transparent PNG support?“
    A: “Ian, I’m sorry, I can’t answer that question for you.“

    The above lines make a small fragment from a discussion about Internet Explorer, from Microsoft’s website. If I would have access to the source code of Internet Explorer, I, Mihai Bazon, would implement proper PNG support in at most 2 hours, with no previous knowledge of IE internals. I simply can’t conceive that a corporation the size and power of Microsoft can’t even answer that question, so the only answer I can figure out is that it has been left out intentionally. Any other Web browser on the market today provides proper support for PNG, including (!) Internet Explorer for Macintosh (whose development was discontinued by Microsoft).

    However, one can still include a PNG and get it displayed in IE the way it should be, using a IE-specific “feature” which does not work on any other browser.

  • DOM event model. The DOM event model is a W3C specification that enables developers to create interactive Web pages. Internet Explorer does not support any part of it.

    IE has event programming facilities which provide the same functionality as one can get with Web standards. But using these facilities will result in pages that only work with IE.

    This is actually the problem that makes an enormous number of websites unaccessible to any other browser: the designers used the IE event model as if no other browser would exist!

  • Since forever, IE has a bug that does not allow one to layout a normal element on top of a system control like a select box or scroll bar. We have to be honest about this and say that other browsers had this problem too, but for instance in Mozilla it was recently fixed.

    IE has, though, a feature called a “popup” window which–surprise–can be shown above any element; it can even get out of the browser window. But using this feature results in pages that only work with IE. Should you think that this feature is a good one, then we invite you to see our little demo about it (only if you’re running IE).

So where’s the intention? Well, as you can see, IE has solutions for all its problems; any developer can use the MSDN and find out about these solutions. Which is what most developers do. Because developing a Web application requires pretty much work, most developers only care to implement the IE part–meaning, they use the IE style, instead of W3C style–which leads to a lot of websites that require Internet Explorer for Windows, which leads to a lot of money for Microsoft, which is why Microsoft does not want to fix the problems in their browser and prefers to say that “this is so by design” (without even lying) as you can see in most technical notes at Microsoft website.

Microsoft.com website is an example of web application designed to work properly only with Internet Explorer.

“Microsoft committed to Web standards”?

Don’t buy this crap!

The Microsoft.com website itself looks terrible in any other browser than Internet Explorer! The fonts are small to the point that they are unreadable! It dumps JavaScript syntax errors!! The MSDN tree on the left doesn’t work! The menubar doesn’t work! And finally, the code has absolutely nothing in common with actual Web standards. If you don’t believe it, take a look at the source.

Microsoft would probably claim that other browsers aren’t capable enough for all the technology used at their website, but this would be a huge lie. The truth is that it’s difficult to develop for both IE and other browsers, so they chosen to only develop for IE.

A never-ending nightmare?

Only apparently. There are good news. In the last 2 years, many developers understood that it’s much better to develop their applications conforming to Web standards. Some of the benefits include easier development, maintenance, accessibility and portability. For instance a site carefully written with XHTML and CSS, which uses DIV and not TABLE-s for layout, may run very fine on a browser embedded in a cellular phone, though it was not especially designed for that environment. Even Yahoo–admittedly, a huge application–has gone through a major redesign whose purpose was to make it available to modern browsers and to take advantage of DOM and CSS features. And wow, suddenly you can access Yahoo over WAP or Palm too!

Even if workaround-ing IE problems takes more time when Web standards are targeted, the effort pays in the long term. However, the cost of developing Web applications is still high, because most Web surfers still use IE and as we demonstrated, Microsoft will never fix it’s problems, because it’s these problems the engine that keeps IE alive. So the only real hope is to convince people to quit using it.

Of all modern browsers, IE has the most pathetic feature set. You can’t even select what cookie to delete.

4.   Internet Explorer is very limited

So far we only talked about developers and the benefits that they gain if IE loses popularity. But what are your benefits?

Well, for one thing–and the most obvious–if you could only try another browser, no matter which one, you would realize that IE is very old and limited. Concerning user interface and functionality, many browser vendors have invented features which are extremely useful and IE does not provide. Such as tabbed browsing or mouse gestures. Or popup blocking. Or an useful JavaScript console. Or cookie management. These are just few of them.

If you get used to another browser, you will like these features so much that you won’t want to go back to Internet Explorer.

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