Infrequently Noted

Alex Russell on browsers, standards, and the process of progress.

How IE7 Can Avoid Irrelevance

Every generation of browsers has its boat anchor: that browser which is so painful to develop for that there's nothing professionals would love more than to see it instantly disappear from the desks of users. This is different than simply being old. Old browsers will eventually cycle oh-so-slowly out of circulation. Webdevs understand this and live with it. We're used to pain.

What really rankles is when there's no light at the end of the tunnel. No year we can wistfully mark on the calendar as the date when we can use feature X of the latest CSS spec ("position: fixed;" anyone?). In the last 3 years, the title of the Web's Boat Anchor has been handed off from Netscape 4 to IE 6. Like the dreary days of NN 4.7.x, IE 6 is patched and patched again, but never to fix bugs we care about. With Firefox ascendant, MS had no choice but to restart development on IE in order to prevent it from being relegated to displaying help files in Office via an ActiveX control. The IE 7 team has shown a willingness to be candid about what they will and won't fix, and that much is commendable. Unfortunately, developers of dynamic applications (cough Ajax) have been entirely left in the cold. If Microsoft doesn't commit to fixing the following issues in the near future, no number of CSS rendering updates are going to stem the tide. The problems on the list are by no means simple to address. In some cases, they may require re-architecting large tracts of IE internally. Here's a little hint to whoever is the PM in charge of the renewed IE 7 effort: we don't care. We don't care how much it costs you. We've been cleaning up your messes for years. Those of us tasked with "just making it work" have spent so many sleepless days and nights routing around IE brokenness that our empathy and sympathy are entirely tapped out. All that's left is a combination of despair and loathing. You want us to give a (expletive) that you blog and are "engaging with the community"? Fine. Fix your (expletive) browser. That's the bar the IE 7 team needs to hurdle. I hope they've internalized that.

At a minimum, dynamic web apps need the following out of IE and JScript in the very near future:

If Microsoft is to re-build any credibility around their browser, they need to show us the goods. CSS fixes won't suffice this time around.