Some people need a history lesson.
I’m not a Microsoft evangelist, developer, or even user (at home), but the anti-Internet Explorer (IE) comments are getting ridiculous. They are short sighted, not taking into account context. There were two obvious (but to some extent inevitable) mistakes from Microsoft, which were probably not down to the IE team, but rather handed down to them.
The following is why people should back off, for now.
To put me in context: I was a late comer to the web, starting to try out these ‘web site’ things in 1999. Coming from a psychology background and working in usability, I took things purely from a user’s perspective, not a developers perspective to start with.
Within the year I started experimenting with HTML, Dreamweaver and investigating web technologies. That is when I took an interest in browsers, after all, it’s the intermediary of the web “user experience”. It was fascinating that you could change things so easily and observe the effect on people.
A project for a University had strict accessibility requirements, and I discovered there were many ‘views’ on the same web content. Realising that accessibility required CSS, and having only developed one table based site, CSS came relatively easy thanks to sites like Bluerobot.
The following comes initially from a web-user’s point of view, but moves to a developer’s point of view.
Why IE beat Netscape
IE 5 was much better than Netscape 4.x, hands down. Navigation, browser behaviour, bookmarks, printing, all seemed easier in IE. Microsoft may have used dodgy tactics to gain dominance, but in a straight usability test, the IE browser won easily.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, IE was better for developers aswell. Mac IE 5 might have had better standards support, but WinIE 5.0 is also good enough (CSS wise) to still support today.
Netscape, which then become Mozilla, dropped the ball from a user point of view and didn’t release an update to Netscape for several years, releasing version 1.0 in 2002. Sound familiar?
However, the Mozilla foundation started from scratch, and not only developed a good rendering engine, but a solid bug-tracker and interface framework to boot. Others are now realising the benefits of that approach.
There are a couple of mistakes that Microsoft made (from a web development point of view) in terms of developing IE, the primary one was stopping. I said ‘inevitable’ as they had no competition, no commercial reason to improve the browser. They probably didn’t stop for as long as people have assumed, but long enough for Mozilla to come up with a new browser engine, and usable version.
Software projects are like oil tankers, they take a f**k of a long time to get started or turned around! Thank Firefox’s success for getting the engine started.
The other mistake was actually trying to help web developers in a way that was at-odds with the standards.
Many of the variations from the CSS specs appear to be aimed at making IE easier to develop for. You can see this as either a laudable aim, or trying to gain advantage, but either way it created differences and therefore problems between browsers. For example, IE 5’s version of the box model is easier to learn.
The official model was so confusing when I was learning CSS, partly because there were two, but of the two, the IE way seemed easier. Thankfully IE 6 implemented Doctype switching and used the W3C box model for standards based sites.
The IE team continues to try and help developers, but thankfully not in a way that conflicts with the standards.
The mistakes needed addressing, and they are being addressed, yet still the comments pour in:
Limited TIME and SPACE? How much time do you actually need? How many years in between IE6 and IE7?
It’s a bit strange to be claiming credit for CSS being implemented at all, given how bad it is.
Historically IE (the product not the team) has been lackluster in it’s standards support, since version 3, 10 years ago.
Thank goodness you get the occasional voice of reason.
Lay off, for now
Chris Wilson (the prime target) was involved in the W3C committees about HTML/CSS before Eric Meyer. He was involved in developing the specs for CSS & the DOM. He was creating browsers before Netscape or Internet Explorer existed.
The IE team is turning the ‘tanker’ around, and given the user base that is a huge undertaking. Unfortunately there are a significant amount of people who haven’t noticed yet.
I’m not saying everything is hunky-dory, but development continues, and so long as it does things can only improve. I have three browsers open at the moment, all with different and competing features, but all rendering my pages as intended.
Would you prefer the IE team stopped? Chris Wilson himself will act as a barometer for IE development:
I will continue to improve standards support and compliance in IE, and make the web better. That’s my job, my charter, my vision, and my passion. The day it isn’t, I’ll quit.