Saturday, August 28, 2010

IE9 user interface leaked?

A screenshot of a user interface leaked is something of very little importance, but I'l take this as an opportunity to talk about the great news of IE abandoning a roadmap of halfway support of web standards vs existing sites designed for older versions of IE. As a web developer I am happy to see how in Microsoft they have finally changed their mind in deciding to support web standards. A 'I'm the standard' approach might have had some justification when there was no standard, and the web could only be viewed from a pc or a mac, but nowadays there are also other platforms (smartphones) that are becoming commonly used to surf the net, so the new approach of trying to be the best platform implementing and promoting good standards is the only viable.

Just to make life easier to those of you who are trying to guess where this guy writing stands in Browser War II (comments in today's blogs remind me of the first one between Netscape and IE), I'll tell you I have been using Chrome as my default browser, since its release, as I find it quicker and more modern than IE. I have installed and use also Firefox and Safari, to test the sites I work on. I have never been a fan of Firefox: I find it as ugly as IE, from a user's standpoint - though as a developer, I agree that nothing stinks like IE. I prefer Safari over Firefox. I have never taken Opera into account (I'm interested in browsers that users *are* using). As a browser user, I am falling back to IE only when Chrome lacks some features (no, I'm not missing ActiveX support!). And at last, I do not blame Microsoft for IE6 and its lack of standard compliance, I think they're to blame for not making today's shift in standard compliance back in IE7 days. I have seen what IE9 platform previews have delivered, and I think that if the user interface is going to be more Chrome-like I'm going to make the switch back to IE.

Coming back to the topic, another supposed IE9 user interface has leaked, as you can see from this image. Other supposed user interface screenshots that circulated earlier this year showed an oldstyle user interface, but this image seems to confirm other statements published recently in the blogs that anticipated how the user interface should look like. If this screenshot is real, it seems that at Microsoft they have followed the minimalistic design of Chrome that I really love, taking it a step further: they seem to leave more room to the content by putting all the browser's user interface in one single line (the tabs), using less space for inactive tabs (just the icon?). Another thing I hope to see in the new user interface is Chrome's 'status bar': in Chrome you see the status information while the page is being loaded, or a link destination as you hover over the link, then the status bar goes away to leave room to the content. In IE8 you still have to choose whether you want to see the status bar (and lose its space) or you do not want it (and lose the information).

Anyway, the user interface is not what I am eager to see. What I am really waiting IE9 for is standard support: in this area the technology previews have shown Microsoft is doing well. Microsoft is instead advertising the speed increases brought by GPU support, the only area where IE9 has a clear advantage, even over browsers running on a much more powered mac, as shown in the test published by Chris Foresman. In its IE9 Test Drive page Microsoft seems to suggest that browser speed is determined mainly by image intensive processing, as one could notice in the speed tests proposed in IE9 site. Ironically, IE9 might not be the first browser to implement GPU accelerated rendering in a release version: Chrome seems to follow suite later but more seriously than Firefox and Safari, and may ship before IE9 is RTM.

I think Microsoft is also doing well in browser speed: rendering engine, javascript speed, reuse of cached items are all areas that show significant improvements over IE8. But I think that rendering speed is still not so important as standard support: the good news with IE9 is that in the not so distant future we are going to see sites made for Html5, with no IE hacks, and at last write code once for all browsers. At first, we'll see many sites that do only skin-deep browser detection and treat any IE version the same way will render wrong in IE9 because now IE is standard compliant! But at the end the web will be a better place for everyone.