Microsoft recently released a second beta version of their ubiquitous Internet Explorer web browser. MS is playing catch-up to Mozilla’s Firefox browser by offering tabbed browsing and “Add-ons” (which Firefox calls “extensions”). I thought I’d try to install IE 7 and see if the “improved” browser lives up to the hype.
Download and install should have been a fairly simple process, cheapest but I was disappointed that the installer didn’t warn me that I was actually replacing my IE 6 installation. (Since it was a beta test, I thought I’d get to keep IE 6 and then run whichever version of the browser I wanted. I was wrong.) The installer had this little progress bar to tell you that it was still installing the software. The graphic was useless. I mean, obviously it was still installing the software, because the installer hadn’t finished yet. I would have liked it more if the graphic had shown a percentage of the installation process, so I could gauge how far along I was in the process. Overall, it took about 5 minutes to install the browser on my work machine, but it felt a lot longer because I was sitting in front of the screen waiting for some visual cue as to how far along it was.
I got an error message during the installation process because IE 7 couldn’t contact Windows Update. My company restricts access to the Windows Update site because they want OS upgrades to come from corporate IT when corporate IT is ready to install them. The specific error message I got was: “Network policy settings prevent you from using this web site to get updates for your computer.” Since this is probably fairly routine across many large corporations, it would have been nice if IE recognized that the error was due to a network policy, and still showed that the process had been completed successfully — because it did.
There was a save settings page that I was supposed to use. It was my first experience with the browser, and the images on the page didn’t show up at all. But that may have been part of the same network policy problem.
I’ve heard some complaints from web users about how IE’s new search box defaults to the MSN search agent. I read a MS blog that said that IE 7 checks to see what search engine was the default in IE 6, and uses that for the search box. True to the MS blog, when I opened IE 7 for the first time, Google was the default search engine in my IE 7 search box. Nice to know IE 7 didn’t try to shove MS down my throat.
My first impression of IE 7: “Where did the animated E icon go?” I mean, after all, that was the way I knew if the browser was still working or if it had hung (a common problem with IE browsers.)
My second impression of IE 7: “Why can’t I move the address bar?” It’s very disconcerting to have it at the top of the page above the buttons. It just doesn’t look right.
My third impression: “Where did the File menu go?” This I attribute to the forthcoming Windows Vista release and associated Office 12 release. Back in September I reported on the pending Office 12 release about the new user interface that MS plans to force upon the average computer user. In this new UI, MS has removed the menu bar, and replaces it with context-sensitive options, depending on the functions MS thinks you are trying to accomplish. (This worries me, as MS is notoriously wrong at guessing what I want to do next.)
So in IE 7, the menu bar has been removed. It has been replaced with some menu-bar like options that sit on the right-hand side of the screen at the same screen height as the tab bar, that frankly, aren’t that easy to use (at least, at first). (Click the image to see a larger version.) The first of these buttons, the home button, implements a different idea from the traditional “home” button. With IE 7, you can have multiple home pages, and clicking on the home button opens ALL of these pages in separate tabs. That might be nice the first time I open my browser for the day, but it’s not what I want every time I open my browser or click on my home button during my browsing session. Thankfully I can turn this option off.
The second menu-bar replacement button is the RSS feed button. You can click on the feed button to see the RSS-version of the web site you’re viewing, and then you can subscribe to a site’s feed. IE 7 includes a feed reader (look for it in the same place as you look for your favorites…. if you can find them). The feed reader doesn’t seem that useful to me. I suppose because the only way I got it to work was to look at individual feeds on separate pages. For that, I can go to the original web site.
Next is the Print button. Functionality of that button is fairly obvious. After that, the Page button. The page button, when clicked, displays a menu list of things you can do related to the page (view source, copy, cut, paste, etc.). Many of these features were one-click away in IE 6, now you have to click twice to get to them. An improvement? Well, at least it makes for a cleaner UI.
Last is the Tools button. This button functions like the Tools menu in IE 6 with all its attendant options.
Overall, the new menu system is indeed functional, and like I said, it does unclutter the UI a bit, but I found it clunky and couldn’t always find the tools I wanted to do the job I wanted to do. For example, I often use IE as an FTP client. You just type the FTP address into the address bar, and away you go. Not so fast with IE 7. Since there is no file menu, I couldn’t figure out how to log in using IE 7. (You used to go to File | Login as…). I logged in the hard way, by using my username and password in the URL of the FTP address. Then I couldn’t create a new folder, because I couldn’t find the (File | New Folder) option.
One of the cool features of IE 7 that I really liked was the Quick Tab option. Basically the quick tab option shows you a mini-version of all the tabs you have open. So if you had a bunch of tabs and didn’t know which one you wanted to go to, you could go to the quick tab and see all your tabs. Click on the image of the tab you want, and you’re on that tab.
In the end, I was sad I upgraded IE 7, mostly because I wasn’t ready to bid farewell to IE 6, a corporate standard. I figured out how to do most of what I wanted to do with IE 7, but I wonder how receptive the less technical users will be when MS forces IE 7 as standard with the release of Windows Vista.
This might be another window of opportunity for browsers like Firefox and Opera, who may pick up some of the users who just want the browser to do what its supposed to do, and who don’t care if it looks pretty if they can’t get it to work.
Note: On June 7th, I added an additional blog entry on Internet Explorer 7 related to the menu bar, and FTP information. That post can be found here.
Update (11/20/06): I’ve posted again on a related topic. The new post can be found here.