IE7 Improvements and Bug Tracking

Published 18 years, 3 months past

Over on IEblog, Markus Mielke has a great IE7 post with screenshots of a CSS Zen Garden-inspired layout showing off fixed positioning, PNG alpha channels, arbitrary-element hover, and so much more.  There are those who have called for its inclusion into the Zen Garden, but as Dave points out, it would break in IE6 and so couldn’t qualify as an official design.  Oh, the irony.

Getting back to Markus’ post, he has this to say near the end:

…we are now layout complete with the release of the MIX build – we don’t plan to add more layout features or drastically change layout behavior. This gives web developers a chance to test and prepare your pages for Vista Beta2 and the final release of IE7.  There are still bugs and missing features (display tables, generated content to name a few) we would have liked to do for IE7 but based on your requests to have some lead time to test your pages we need to lock it down now to be able to ship IE7.

So there you go: no more CSS functionality will be added to IE7.  Anything that isn’t there, like CSS table properties and the like, will have to wait for a future version.  As has been publicly stated, though, we won’t have to wait five years for the next version.  There’s no solid guarantee of how long or short a wait there will be, but Bill Gates himself said that new versions would come out more frequently.  The IE team reiterated this.

So will current bugs in IE7’s CSS handling be fixed?  I give that a solid “maybe”.  Markus has left the door partway open by saying that there are no plans to make drastic changes to layout behavior.  That could mean that if a bug fix only causes minor changes, then it might get in.  On the other hand, it could mean that unless existing behavior causes massive problems (or crashes), no bug fixes will be taken until after IE7.  Personally, I wouldn’t count on it, but I’ve been wrong before.

Then, in the same post, Markus drops an entirely new bombshell:

The good news is that we are in the progress of building up a public bug database where you can submit your issues, track their progress and see when we internally fix an issue – Al is going to post about this soon.  Your participation will help us greatly to improve IE and also help us to prioritize what bugs to fix for the next releases.

Sweet fancy Moses—a Bugzilla for IE?  There was no mention of this within my earshot at Mix 06, so I’m as surprised as anyone else.  Did I fall down a rabbit hole and quaff a bottle labeled “DRINK ME”?  If this is a dream, I don’t ever want to wake up.

The Redmond-haters will claim that this is just a lot of catch-up, played years late, and amounts to little more than aping what Mozilla and other browser makers have been doing—better standards support, a tabbed interface, open bug databases, and so on.  It happens that they’re right, but what’s wrong with that?  The IE team has looked over what happened while they were in hibernation and is emulating the best of it.  That’s not lame, that’s smart.  And it should have other browser makers a little bit worried.  A lot of their success has been due to Microsoft’s complacency.  They’re going to have to be a lot sharper and more nimble now that the 800 pound gorilla is actually awake and paying attention to its surroundings.

No, I don’t think IE will wipe everyone else off the map, but I do think the browser space is getting a lot more interesting.  What makes it particularly interesting is that the competition is not going to be over who can add the coolest non-standard geegaws, but who can deliver the best product based on the same standards as everyone else.

I’ve wondered what that would be like ever since I got seriously into standards back in mid-1996.  I almost can’t believe that there’s a chance I’ll get to find out.

Comments (36)

  1. What’s wrong with it is that users are losing their software freedom in the process and this extremism is never pointed out as such. Users are being asked to treat a business like a charity by participating in a promised public bug database, and (in a far less important sense) users are told this browser will offer features other free software browsers have had for years. As a web developer, a consultant, and a user of free software browsers, this doesn’t get me excited to know that the browser which became popular largely through unsavory means is ostensibly going to perform at a level I’ve come to expect from other browsers which respect my software freedom.

    This isn’t about whether one is a “Redmond-hater”, it’s about reframing the debate to focus on building community, not separating users and holding them helpless. If a contest is about the “best” product that is standards-compliant, the contest is too vague. I want to pay real money for free software so that that money goes to developers that don’t help sustain a dog-eat-dog society. After 20 years of successes, I’m quite certain that this is not some unrealistic fantasy, but a viable, competitive, even business-friendly reality. I’d be happy to do business with Microsoft on that basis, but they won’t oblige.

  2. Sweet fancy Moses—a Bugzilla for IE? There was no mention of this within my earshot at Mix 06, so I”m as surprised as anyone else.

    Actually … no, I’m not. :)
    It was mentioned before on the blog:

  3. Let us not forget that the gorilla woke up because of the increasing competition. May it though shrinking market reach that made Redmond nervouse, may it through large customers who complained to Microsoft that they got more complaints about their websites and that they had a tough and expensive job to keep their sites going.

    The blackest scenario would be 1998 all over again and that Microsoft will push the competitors out of the market and put the gorilla back to sleep. Let’s hope that customers will keep Microsoft on edge this time.

  4. “800 pound gorilla” … Someone’s been watching King Kong?! ;)

  5. It’s a noble thing to admit such kind of things so honestly. Yet I feel a faint scent of good old Microsoft’s strategy—namely—EEE. It has happend before and I think (though I hope I’m wrong) it’s happening right now. Now they’re trying to “embrace”. It’s a nice thing to float with the stream (as social as corporate). Diabolicaly ingenious from their side I might add. It’ll give them a time to catch up with the rest and then, when they’ll get there it’s more than possible that they’ll start to add “extensions”. It’s easy to guess what should happen next.

    Well, don’t get me wrong I’m not trying to unleash a crusade ;) or even a small flame here :). No, no, no—none of that things. I wanted to share my little though with you. And frankly—I hope I’m wrong because I want that further events will lead to better web for all of us regardles of the software sympathies. So good luck to Microsoft in making IE more usable and closer to standards! Good luck to us all!

  6. It’s great that IE is doing this, but keep things in perspective. They’re doing it because they want to stop bleeding market- and mind-share to Firefox, and for no other reason. And so you should be fervently hoping that the 800-pound gorilla doesn’t succeed in crushing his opponents again, or he’ll back to whatever he was doing 2001-2004.

    In fact, Microsoft spent those years planning and building WPF, to lure Web developers into its proprietary and patent-protected embrace. And that should have you most concerned.

  7. Given that the majority of what is happening in IE7 is catchup on features and standards, the competition should still have the edge on development here, as they’ve passed this point and are already looking toward the next big milestones. MS also have to prove by deed that this won’t be a one-off gesture, and that they’ll keep up the pace. The game’s far from lost yet.

    Granted IE holds a big ace in terms of market dominance, especially in the office environment where IT policies prevent competitors’ products being used. That still provides a big temptation for MS to not push too hard on developing IE, as they don’t really need to.

  8. Regardless of the motivation for a public bug tracking system, it’s terrific news.

    IE7 is sounding really promising – but I doubt many users who switched from IE6 to other browsers after the years of IE6 ‘malaise’ will switch back. Especially Firefox users, as Firefox has an almost cult following (myself included!). This probably doesn’t concern Microsoft too much, as the most Firefox users are still a minority in the big picture anyway – and most are web-savvy who required the extensibility that arguably only an open source browser can provide.

    Perhaps the bigger issue here is what the uptake will be from current IE6 users to IE7. How long after IE7’s final release do we push IE6 into the same deprecated, minority-usage category of IE5?

  9. The IE team has looked over what happened while they were in hibernation and is emulating the best of it. That”s not lame, that”s smart.

    I Agree with Martijn. I really don’t know this for sure, but I doubt some huge team of enthusiastic IE developers have just been in a deep coma for the last 4-5 years. It just didn’t make any sense for MS to develop a browser that doesn’t make them money and takes the attention away from their own platform (windows).. Web Apps anyone?

    I’m glad that this has happened, it will make web developers lives a bit easier in the medium term as more IE6 users start using IE7 but I sincerely hope that if this is just a ploy to get customers interested again before screwing the competition (that would be anyone interested in the web as a platform instead of windows) that they are not successful in that respect.

  10. The problem of the Zen Garden entry highlights one of issues that IE (in general) still has. The IE development team expects people to use conditional comments in place of the usual hacks. Although they work great, they still require a change to the markup of a document (which is why Markus Mielke’s entry cannot make the Zen Garden list). I forsee that some form of code forking will always be with us. Sigh.

    To be honest, no form of hackery sits well with me. I’ve always prefered, for example, to throw in an extra container div or two instead of using a box model hack. Although this bloats markup a bit, I find myself in a position where I have less to do when IE7 hits the shelves.

    The one hack I have employed extensively is the use of the child selector. I have done this only when needing to feed IE with GIFs instead of PNGs, which means I can safely leave my CSS unedited. Yay.

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  12. In related news, a French article just mentionned a new browser market share study by French company Médiamétrie-eStat, stating that IE7 Beta has already more market share than Opera (around 1% each). Firefox is at 12.7% (not counting other gecko-based browsers, which may be around an additional four percentage points).

    Other than that, I totally agree with you and your conclusion:

    Competition: absolutely necessary.
    Standard-support: ditto.

    One caveat, though: is Microsoft going to play the standard games? I certainly hope so, just like you, as we’ve all been waiting for this to happen for years. But our good friend and former colleague Doron has doubts… “Cause writing to standards is, like, so 2005”.

    disclaimer: I’ve been involved with the Mozilla project for years, yadda yadda…

  13. > They”re doing it because they want to stop bleeding market- and mind-share to Firefox, and for no other reason.

    I’m not so sure this is the only reason.

    There is the fact that IE is increasingly the subject of bad publicity, and is the big exception from the Microsoft ideal of “Developers, Developers!”.

    But, moreover, Dave Shea pointed out to me at the Geek Dinner in London a few months ago that one reason may be that Microsoft, in developing things like, are finally having to eat their own dogfood, struggling to get things working on their own browser, and that as such there may have been internal pressure to get things up to scratch.

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  15. look they’re not doing this to be magnanimous. this is all a ploy to stave off migration to firefox and “web 2.0” style applications while they get the WPF/XAML tools out the door. IE 7, by not being as good as firefox, opera or safari in terms of standards support does nothing for web developers but make our lives more difficult. it’s clear that their better, but still poor standards support, is deliberate. if they wanted they could have the best browser out there in every department bar none, they just don’t need or want to. all they need to do is retain enough market share until vista and then the web is dead, or at least that’s what they’re betting on.

    a lot of people will point to trident being fundamentally flawed and a big job, and maybe it is, but we’re talking about a company that in same period of time between IE 6 and IE 7, launched a gaming platform, online gaming service and an update to that gaming console based on an entirely new architecture. you can’t tell me that full standards support in IE 7 is too difficult, it’s a simple case of microsoft not wanting to do it.

    to be honest it really annoys me that so many css gurus are embracing this lame duck offering. ie7 represents the worst possible outcome of this for people who use css because ie 7 won’t fall in line enough with firefox, safari and opera to have a single “standards compliant” css file with branched or hacks for ie 5-6, we’re going to have that single file and then branches for ie 5-7.

  16. You know, I was gonna make a comment and in the process do some thinking out loud of what the timelines we’re seeing really mean to a practicing web developer, but I’m almost feeling obligated to take my couple minutes to defend the IE team.

    Unlike some comments here I’m not about to give the IE team crap for wanting to give us that information in the form of good communication via the blogs or the openness they’re showing with the bug database. Sure MS has motives beyond simple good will, but I have ulterior motives for wanting the information, too. I’m more then happy to take what they’re giving in the form of blog communication and interactive bug databases because its more information I can use to make the right decisions for my clients/employer when building sites. Even if I wind up making the same decisions I was without the information I can look a lot better while doing it (this comes directly from experience using mozilla’s and safari’s DBs for research).

    But back to the timelines — and where I start to question the unchecked love — I’m still not totally buying the “frequent” releases line. On this one I’m just gonna be stubborn and skeptical I guess. I just can’t reconcile the current public releases being feature complete with the IE7.0 final release date being still months off and then a year or so from /that/ seeing the next release.

    I feel the love, I’m just wondering when the products of that love will materialize.

  17. Good.

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  19. I’m just happy that more people will see the things in my pages that up until now only Firefox and Opera users can see. And more than a few things that haven’t left the testing zone will be used, because it won’t just benefit

  20. I’m not at all sure I can share that enthusiasm of some. Granted, with IE7, MS has made some improvements to their rendering engine. But the worst of that rendering engine is still there: that absolutely evil thing called ‘haslayout’. With all what it implies. IE7 now supports min-width/max-width; unfortunately, it triggers ‘layout’, and will probably cause countless headaches.

    More to the point, I’m afraid that MS’s support for standards is mostly a fig leaf. They do know, like most of us, that separating content and presentation makes website management more easy. But I strongly suspect that this is mostly PR, and their real intend is with WPF, as Roc already pointed out in comment 6.

  21. I think that IE7 is a good thing. It’s totally not going to be the best browser out there. I still think its rendering engine is ugly as sin, but the fact that they’re pushing IE forward is absolutely good for the web. If they can come out with something that’s “just good enough” for the next couple years (or however long it takes for IE8), then it will make every web designer’s job much easier. The sooner that we have to stop writing hacks and workarounds for IE5-6, due to lack of a user base, the better.

  22. New slogan for Microsoft?
    “Support IE7 development, use Firefox!”

  23. when they”ll get there it”s more than possible that they”ll start to add “extensions”

    That’s not always a bad thing though, is it? XMLHttpRequest anybody?

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  26. Sure it’s not always so! :) As long as it serves improvement of technology as a whole—not stopping users and devs from getting more reasonable solutions.

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  28. What I want to know is, will the hack to run multiple versions of IE at once still work or will we have to go back to the days of running Virtual PC to test layouts? If not, we are all in for a world of suck.

  29. MS also have to prove by deed that this won”t be a one-off gesture, and that they”ll keep up the pace.

    Looking at a somewhat similar case in the past, Microsoft C++ compiler’s support for the C++ standard lagged the other major compilers for a while. When MS decided to catch up, they pushed ahead to implement close to full support of the standard (by some measures, better compliance than the other major compiler vendors).

  30. I’m wary.

    I’d like to see an MSIE that works better with standards-compliant, semantically marked up pages… however, they’ve burned those bridges long ago. How am I supposed to trust a smiling face of some developer at Microsoft when the company as a whole was charged with being an illegal monopoly not too long ago?

    Call me paranoid or a Microsoft-hater, but as long they continue their ‘our way or the highway’ motto with the majority of their products (looking at you WMA). I don’t give them any credibility.

  31. IE7 will be very good. Firefox is now at 25%. I think IE7 will stop firefox. Actually, I prefer IE6 while surfing. There is something wrong with firefox for end user. I was a dedicated user of Netscape 4 when IE3 times. It takes a long time to switch IE4.

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  33. Eric, I don’t know whether or not it’s intentional, but what’s with the CSS-hidden link-spam in the middle of your article?

    Does appear raw in bloglines too, or when browsing when CSS off…

  34. I downloaded and installed IE7, beta 2, about half an hour ago, and quite frankly, it stinks. Except for the shiny new interface, I can’t figure out what everyone is raving about. It has crashed on every single attempt that I have made to open a link in a new tab OR a new window. Thus, I have submitted approximately 15 reports already. I wonder how many reports they will receive before they fix the problem. Needless to say, I have little desire to try anything else in this new version. I’ll be waiting for the next fix before I use it again. Back to a browser that works…

  35. I provide a charitable site based on XSLT and JavaScript displaying a foreign character set and providing RSS feeds. At one time, IE6/Windows X provided better operation and rendering. Firefox progressed so that in the last two months Firefox began to beat IE6 in usage. In the last 30 days 47% of the viewers used Firefox versus 22% with IE6, even though 74% of the viewers are using Windows operating systems.

    Today I tried IE7 beta 2 on a borrowed XP Windows system. (MS won’t release IE7 beta on my Windows 2000.) Hard to see any improvement over Firefox and the built-in RSS feed viewer won’t handle the foreign text properly. In the future my site will be targeted to Firefox, with IE7 taking a second level of support.

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