For nine years, IE represented what was worst about Microsoft's attitude toward Internet safety. Various versions of IE (IE 6 through IE 8) only seemed to embarrass Microsoft even further.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983


Internet Explorer finally hits the target -- but for Windows 7 users only (revised)

March 27, 2011

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2011, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2011, The Post-Standard

I've complained about Internet Explorer since March of 2002. It may be time to stop the fuss.

For nine years, IE represented what was worst about Microsoft's attitude toward Internet safety. Various versions of IE (IE 6 through IE 8) only seemed to embarrass Microsoft even further.

The failures of Internet Explorer -- its inability to resist attacks from malicious websites, particularly -- have long given IE's rivals a boost among both PC experts and the public. Firefox, the superb open source browser from Mozilla, now holds a 30 percent market share worldwide, compared to 44 percent for Internet Explorer (IE used to have more than 90 percent of the market). Chrome, the other main IE rival, has a 13 percent market share worldwide. (These figures represent the medians from four browser-tracking organizations.)

Making the whole mess worse was Microsoft's insistence on bundling IE with every Windows installation, giving many casual Windows users the impression that there was no other way to get to websites but through Internet Explorer.

But those years of dread seem to be over, at least for Windows 7 users.

(Yes, you heard that right, XP users. Microsoft literally doesn't care that you're stuck with an inferior eersion of IE. So go ahead and tell Microsoft what you really think about this by switching to the latest Firefox, Safari or Chrome. And check my blog -- linked from the cover of my websitre -- for more on how I feel about this.)

Microsoft's new Windows-7-only browser is Internet Explorer 9 (from http://windows.microsoft.com/ie9). It matches its rivals in both security and features.

But Microsoft can't seem to get the picture about operating systems other than Windows 7. Not only is it banned from use by XP users, it's forbidden to all non-Windows users as well. No Mac users need apply. No Linux users. You'd think that the 45 million Mac users around the world might want to give IE 9 a whirl, and that the uncountable number of Linux users (I'd guess tens of millions) would like to, also.

But this is just one more indication that Microsoft doesn't know what's going on in the world of computing. The number of Mac users doubles every few years -- maybe every year, based on the fact that sales are doubling each year -- and that's still not a market that Microsoft sees as important.

Ah, the emperor and his new clothes.

Internet Explorer 9 gives as much space as possible within the program window for Web pages. There are no menus across the top to get in the way, for example. IE 9 also encourages users to open pages in tabs, just as its rivals do. When you open a page in a background tab (using Ctrl-Click) you can continue browsing the current page and even continue opening more background tabs. You can then view the pages in tabs one at a time.

IE 9 checks downloads for signs of malicious content -- a splendid idea -- and, like Apple's Mac browser, Safari, IE 9 lets users pause and resume downloads.

The new browser works very well with Windows 7's new dock-like taskbar, letting users create icons in the taskbar that show notifications when sites have new content.

More important to many of us is IE 9's speed at opening standard Web pages and ones with mixed content. In my tests, IE 9 was faster than Firefox, Chrome or Apple's Safari with some sites and a little slower with others. It always felt snappy.

If you have to use Windows, you now have some great choices for a Web browser. IE 9 is one of them. I'm pleased that Microsoft has finally got things right. It's now time for the company to look up and see what's happening all around it. A Mac version would be a big step forward. (Don't write to me to tell me there used to be a Mac version; I know that. It's time for a new one.)

As for Linux users, well, ahem. Microsoft has been suing the Linux community for years, just to discourage companies that have been thinking of adopting Linux for more than just their servers. That hasn't worked, so maybe it's time the company joined the adults in the other end of the pool.