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Archive: 23 March 2008

Drugs, Bugs, and IE8

If there’s a downside to becoming a cyborg, it’s the aftermath.  I’m not talking about the dystopian corporate-state shenanigans: those are fully expected.  No, it’s the painkillers that really suck.  They basically do their job, but at the cost of mental acuity.  That is not a trade I’m happy to make.  Granted, there were some interesting physical hallucinations that came along for the ride, but that’s nowhere near enough to balance the scales.

Here’s what I mean on that last part.  At one point yesterday, lying in bed as I had been all day, I decided it was about time to straighten out my legs, which were crossed at the ankles and starting to feel a little funny.  When I sent the relevant signals to my legs, nothing really happened.  Slowly I came to realize that nothing was happening because my legs weren’t actually crossed at all.  Furthermore, it gradually dawned on me that if the sensoria I’d been getting had been correct, it would have to mean that my legs were not only crossed at the ankles, but also attached to my body backwards.

So anyway, I thought I’d write up some of my observations (thus far) regarding IE8 beta 1.  What?

I’m going to say basically the same thing I said about the first betas of IE7: test and report, but don’t fix.  That is to say, you should absolutely grab it and run it across all your own sites, and all your common destinations.  Find out what’s different, broken, or just plain strange.

But don’t start searching for workarounds.  Not yet.  Submit bug reports, yes.  Boil down the problems you hit to basic test cases and submit those, if you like.  (I do like, but I’ve got kind of a history with that sort of thing.)  Just don’t think that beta 1 represents what we’ll face in the final release.

No, I don’t have some sort of inside track; never have.  That conclusion simply seems obvious to me just by looking at how this beta acts.  For example, there’s no support at all for :first-line and :first-letter.  That’s not just a glitch.  That’s a lack of support for a CSS feature that’s been present for three major releases.  I just can’t see that omission persisting to final release.

Another problem I noticed is evident here on the home page of meyerweb.  In the sidebar, each list item has a left margin and negative text indentation, creating a classic “outdent”.  Like so:

#extra .panel li {margin-left: 1em; text-indent: -1em;}

In each of those list items is a link of some kind, usually text.  The fun part is this: the hanging outdent part of that text isn’t clickable.  So the first couple of letters of each sidebar link are inactive.  They’re colored properly, but do nothing if you try to click them.  If you click on the active part of a link, the focus outline only draws around the active part.  And, for bonus yay, scrolling the page will wipe away any outdents that are offscreen.  So as you scroll down the page, you end up with all the sidebar links having their first few letters chopped off.  Whoops.

Again, that’s something I just can’t see going unaddressed in the final release.

In both these cases, flipping IE8 back to IE7 mode makes the weirdness go away.

I’ve seen more serious problems on the wider web.  Google Maps is currently busted beyond any hope of usefulness in IE8, as many have reported.  Also, I came across a site where loading the home page just locked up IE8 completely.  I had to force-quit and relaunch.  Every time I hit that page, lockup.

Flipping to IE7 mode allowed me to browse the site without any trouble at all.

These things, taken together, have really driven something home for me: there really is a new rendering engine in there.  I don’t just mean in the sense of fixing and adding enough things that the behavior is different.  I mean that I believe there’s truly a whole new engine under the hood of IE8.  And if the Acid 2 results and public statements of the IE team are to be believed, there’s a whole new standards-based rendering engine under that hood.

That’s kind of a big deal in any event.  The last time I remember a browser with an extended release history replacing its old, creaky, grown-over-time, crap-piled-on-crap engine with (what the browser team felt was) a new, improved one was the transition from Netscape 4.5 to Netscape 6.0.  And remember how well that went?  Yee haw.

I really shouldn’t be surprised about this.  Chris Wilson, for example, used the exact words “our new layout engine” during the WaSP roundtable (transcript).  I guess I’d been assuming that was verbal shorthand for “our much-improved version of our old layout engine”.  I guess I was wrong.

So I would personally argue that this release was mislabelled.  This is not a beta release.  As far as I’m concerned, it’s an alpha, even under the kinds of old-school naming conventions I prefer.  I’m not going to go around calling it that, because that would just be unnecessarily confusing, but it’s how I’m going to think of it.

Now I’m wondering just how long it will be until final release, given the kinds of distances one usually sees between alpha and final.

Unfortunately, I just took the 6pm set of painkillers, so I’ll be wondering at about one-third speed.

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