FOWA 07: Chris Wilson – The Future of The Browser


Talking about IE, and browsers.

What happened in 2001? Wasn’t a lot of adoption of the web platform, there wasn’t much building of ‘Web 2.0’ type stuff, even though the tools were there. IE was then the only browser that could handle these things. bubble burst, experiments with “Web OS” and other super-rich web apps, which ultimately failed. Hacking became lucrative around 2000/01. Whole industry hit, but MS and IE hit the hardest. Spent a lot of time retraining everyone around security. Trying to fix what wasn’t secure, produced Service Pack 2, took a lot of resources. IE in SP2 was almost a whole new browser, just didn’t look like it because it was all security-based.

2005, Ajax gets a name. “We sort of invented it in 1998, great that the industry finally picked up on it”. The pattern of Ajax serves the realisation that you need to care about the UI, and the user experience. It wasn’t that something new happened in terms of tech in 2005, because most Web 2.0 stuff could have run in IE6, which shipped in 01. But in 2006, the idea of the web being the semantic web, that RSS is hitting the mainstream, the idea that you can have microformats that bring new meaning to HTML without redefining the language, tagging.

Other browsers. Hard to get excited about adding new features to IE which people just weren’t going to use anyway. But MS always does work best when there is competition.

Late 2006, IE7 finally shipped. Focused on improving user experience; security and trustworthiness; web developer platform, including missing pieces of standards, bugs, etc.

User experience: tabs, OpenSearch, page zoom, better printing.

Integrated RSS platform: feed discovery and default feed view; common platform for feeds: feedlist, storage, parser, sync engine, used by other Windows apps, not just IE, all use same engine.

Security: protection against web fraud: integrated anti-phishing service; user experience highlights security. Put the user in control: warn of insecure settings; explicit user consent is required on the first run of ActiveX; integration of parental controls.

Web developer platform: thinking a bit differently about this than had before. Spoke to real developers, fixed bugs, fixed inconsistencies. Added standards features for CSS and HTML. Added other heavily-requested features, such as the alpha channel in PNG images. Fixed memory leaks, and a number of other things. Problem is that sites started breaking.

“I’m really concerned that we’re breaking stuff in the name of goodness and that all users and developers will walk away with is ‘stuff broke’.” – Wilson’s Boss’s Boss.

Assumption is that IE guys don’t know what they are doing, but the reality is that they have fixed things that were broken before, [and that maybe people had done kludges to deal with]. Have to be careful how we deploy IE7. Uses ‘Quirks Mode’, so all the oddness that people had done before still worked, and most of the improvements only work in ‘Strict Mode’. Half the web actually uses Strict Mode, it’s increasingly popular, and developers expect behaviour not to change, except when they tell it to.

Multiple IE versions on one machine. Just not technically possible to put different versions of IE on one machine and have them work properly. It’s not designed to do this. There are some hacks that sort of work, but they don’t replace everything. So released a virtual PC image that contained Windows Xp SP2 and IE6, so you can have both IE6 and IE7 on the same machine for free.

Other tools
Visual Web Developer Express, developer tool supporting HTML, CSS, XML etc.
Microsoft Expression Web: a professional tool for creating standards-based web sites. Ajax: client-side JavaScript framework for creating reusable components and libraries.
WPF/E: for adding vector graphics, imaging, text, audio and video. Cross-platform and cross-browser.

Future of IE
Compatibility and standards are important. Must not break the web. Evolution, not revolution.

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