Monday, October 25, 2010

IE9 first impressions

IE9's first beta has been out for more than a month, and I haven't written anything about it yet.This was in part because of lack of time, and in part because I did not want to say what can be said after using it for half an hour. Anyway, I'll give you some links if you really want to know that the Acid 3 score is 95/100, that on Windows 7 you can pin a site on the taskbar, that the user interface is cleaner than previous versions, that IE9 won't install on Windows XP.
What I want to focus on in this post is the feeling with this browser when used on a daily basis.
First, some background: my favourite browser is Chrome, I like it because it's simple, quick, clean.
So, I appreciate that IE9 has evolved in the same direction. In fact, I like IE9's minimalistic look, taken even beyond the level we've seen in Chrome: the tabs are on the same line as the address/search box.
This makes the space taken up by the browser above the page content as slim as Chrome in maximized mode (see image below), when tabs are allowed to use up all the space of the application 'title' bar (when Chrome is not maximized, it uses more space above the tabs, so that the user has always some blank space to drag around the application window). 
Browsing with IE9 is also simple, all essential features are at hand, all advanced features are one mouse click farther away.
As for speed, IE9 now seems to be able to compete with Chrome, some sites look quicker in IE9, some others (more) look quicker in Chrome. Anyway, speed differences are no more a clear argument against IE9. I'm talking about speed in general, not in any particular phase of the rendering process: there are very few fish tank sites in the Internet, I think as few as sites running ray tracing in JavaScript...
When it comes to using a browser daily, everything has to be smooth, and I think this is still not the case with IE9 beta 1.
First of all, autocompletion of login forms with data entered in previous sessions does not save as much mouse clicking and typing as in other browsers. Though annoying, this seems to be a minor issue that later releases are likely to fix.
More serious is the compatibility issue. You might expect that I'm talking about standards not yet implemented. Yes, there are many areas in Css3 where implementation is completely missing, and even some tests from the beta CSS2.1 Test Suite are failing (other browsers don't do better here, though). But for daily browsing these glitches won't have great impact.
I'm talking instead of standard implemented correctly in IE9 and sites that still treat IE9 like IE8 and its predecessors had to be treated... The Internet is full of pages that use clever tricks to have IE6+ behave the same way as other browser that implemented correctly web standards. Many of these are commonly used sites, Blogger, Facebook... There are many sites with styling issues, other with problems in scripts... Even if a relatively small percentage of sites has blocking issues, having to switch to a different browser is a pain that I'm not going to face. In some cases compatibility modes help resolve the issues, in other cases there is nothing to do. For these problems we cannot expect fixes from Microsoft. Fixes must come from site developers, that incorrectly include IE9 among the bad browsers from Redmond. For active sites this is likely to happen as sites are tested with the new versions of the browser, for sites that are published and not actively maintained this won't happen anytime soon, maybe never (a negligible loss, though).
The bottom line is that I find IE9 still not suitable for daily browsing, and it's a pity, because when navigating on sites where it does not have issues the experience is really smooth. IE9 is a nice browser, but it has to pay for its fathers' sins...