Seven After Five Years

Microsoft Internet Explorer 6 was released in August 2001. This week, one of the biggest and most damaging private monopolies in human history relented, and fully five years after, we now have their MSIE 7. I installed it today.

Coincidentally, a couple of days before I heard that the 7 was out, I happend to read an interview with Jakob Nielsen (Interaction Design, Reece, Rogers and Sharp, 2002) in which he says:

“My prediction has been that Explorer Version 8 will be the first good web browser and that is still my prediction, but there are still a few versions to come before we reach that level.”

Given that Explorer Version 6 had shipped the year before, my powers of higher mathematics reveal to me that we now have approximately one more version to go. But I could be wrong.

A web browser is an interesting beast. A mini OS in its own right – a machine within a machine – and as such presents a huge challenge for UI developers; at least on a par with that of mobile phone interface design. So it’s really interesting to see IE 7. I wasn’t quite interested enough to download a beta, but make of that what you will (the fact that I use Linux and Firefox may have something to do with it).
So – after havin’ me Windows installation “verified” by Microsoft Genuine Advantage and waiting for (of course!) a system reboot, it burst upon me. After playing about for a bit, I could see the good news and the bad news. The good news was that Microsoft (or more accurately, the MSIE team – itself larger than most other software development companies) have eschewed the traditional approach of pounding you in the face with as many icons as you can keep in your field of vision. They have removed, they have hidden, they have simplified. The experience of using the 7 is a simple one. Less is more – oh yes. They have even hidden the menu bar by default. This strikes me as rather nice, because I’ve been using Firefox in kiosk mode (F11) a lot more recently. IE 7s approach is certainly the right one to deliver for a web browser in 2006 because of the aforementioned context of its use. The days of the self-important splash screen are long gone.

The bad news is that hiding the menu bar seems to be its only usage innovation. Other than that, not a single UI feature of the browser is new, or even particularly exciting. Tabs, quick tabs, search bar, RSS… all rather the same as Firefox really. Even the RSS support shares the rather confusing (to my mind) association with bookmarks (sorry, “favourites”).

It could have been worse I suppose, but I’d expected more. I’d expected… different. So I will still use Firefox on Windows – if only for the extentions.

See you in another five years, Microsoft.