Running a French Holiday Gite in Rural Brittany

Saturday, October 21, 2006

IE7 now available - first impressions

As announced on the Microsoft IE Blog earlier this week, IE7 was formally launched for public download.

As it's going to start being pushed out as a mandatory update next month I thought I'd better download it quick and check that our holiday home website looks OK, not just in its current incarnation, but also with the new design that I've spent seemingly months working on and I'm just about to roll out. It would be a bit of a problem if the new site is visually screwed up ...

Looking at my website logs I can see that 6% of this Blog's readers are already on IE7, and 3.5% of the main website users are on IE7; so IE7 is clearly out there in the field and starting to be used in anger.

Interesting to read that the CNET review of IE7 gives it a 7 out of 10 overall and ends with
There are a lot of changes within IE 7, though not as many as we'd hoped and some that are merely cosmetic. Missing are innovative, cutting-edge features such as search engine suggestions, live feeds within bookmarks, inline spell-checking, and session restore--features offered within Firefox 2-- or thumbnail tab previews, desktop widgets, or voice (which can read Web pages aloud)--features offered by Opera 9. Given a proposed 18-month development cycle for the next release of Internet Explorer, IE 7 was Microsoft's one chance to leapfrog ahead of the competition, but the company has only barely caught sight of the current front-runners.

That said, everyone should upgrade to IE 7 when offered the chance, even if you never intend to use it. Because Internet Explorer is so tightly bound within Windows XP SP2 (for example, if you view an HTML document in Microsoft Word, you're using IE technology), it's better to have the improved code within IE 7 running on your system than not. But for a truly secure Internet browser with more features, we still recommend Mozilla Firefox.

So that's what Cnet thought about it, what did I think? I have to admit I'm not overly impressed. I've been using IE7 for an hour or so now and whilst there are things I like, there's an equal number of things I find annoying - maybe it's just because it's different from previous versions of IE, but to me it doesn't seem as intuitive as Firefox.

Some comments therefore:
  • It seems to be definitely slower opening and rendering pages than IE6 and Firefox
  • Tabbed browsing is a welcome addition and I like the Quick Tabs button that gives you a preview view of what's on each tab - a quick and easy way to find a previously opened tab. Also good is that the Open & Close keyboard shortcuts (control-T and control-W) are the same as in Firefox. Also like that there's an option to autosave what tabs were open when you close IE7, though frustrating there's no way to turn this on all the time. Update 22/10, found a great Firefox extension, Tab Catalog, that adds a new button for a thumbnail view of the open tabs (as per IE7) and additionally shows the thumbnails when ctrl-tabbing (one feature not present in IE7)
  • I found the 'favourites centre' a bit non-intuitive at first. I thought it only showed my favourites, but in fact it also enables toggling into history and RSS feeds.
  • RSS feeds are of course a big new feature of IE7 and they seem to work quite well, enabling you to add and subscribe to feeds at will and also choose how often they're automatically updated.
  • Another bugbear, the history view. For reasons unknown all the history file entries for my Gite website appear with the title duplicated twice (e.g. 'Rent our holiday Gite... Rent our holiday Gite ....'). I can't see anything wrong with the HTML that's causing this; for some sites (e.g. Vauxhall Trafficmaster it doesn't duplicate the title in the History, but for lots of others, including Microsoft's IE7 pages have the same problem, but others such as the XP homepage do not - go figure!
  • Of course I miss Mouse Gestures from Firefox; particularly 'right mouse click and moving the mouse left' to go back a page which I find I now do all the time
  • Printing is much improved with a new 'shrink to fit' feature as per Firefox, quick buttons to toggle the page orientation and to turn the page headers on and off - all good features. However annoyingly they've removed the 'Close' button so you have to use the X button on the top right and also pressing the page up and down buttons on the keyboard which for me should show the next/previous page doesn't work (it's Alt right & left arrow instead) and Print Preview is modal so you can't look at any other webpage when Print Preview is open
  • Final useful addition is a Zoom window button (similar to Opera) which increases the text size and automatically scales up images - it's good but you do end up with scroll left/right bars appearing
  • There are a few minor niggles with using Blogger under IE7 - some of the administration features don't work properly - but doubtless Google will fix them soon

So for me I'm personally with CNET, Firefox is still better and remains my browser of choice.

I was delighted to see that the new Gite website design works perfectly with IE7 (phew!); however the current site design doesn't, the leftmost 6 characters or so of the navigation menu get truncated off - this is because the current site design uses the star-html hack which is no longer supported (good Position is Everything article about IE7 changes if you're interested in the detail).

All the more reason to finish off the new site design and get it uploaded quickly ...

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