Is it Time to Give Internet Explorer Another Chance?

Internet Explorer is synonymous with a slow browsing experience, painfully slow startups and incorrectly rendered web pages. Because of this reputation, Internet Explorer’s latest iteration has not been tried by most people.

But, if they were to give it a chance, is there any possibility that it could replace a Firefox or Chrome installation?

Why the hate?

I’ve always been curious as to why people are so negative about Internet Explorer and so I did some investigating and came to the following conclusion; people are still under the impression that IE9 is as bloated as it’s predecessors (more specifically IE6).

Wikipedia in IE6 *shudder*

For web users and web developers alike, Internet Explorer 6 has caused many nightmares. For web developers and coders, it causes many problems having to “dumb down” sophisticated code in order to get it to work on IE6. Of course, you could argue that they should just stop coding IE6 compatible web pages, but IE6 still has a fairly substantial market share.

As of January 2012, IE6 has a market share of 2.47%. This may seem like a minuscule amount, but when you take into consideration how much people use the internet that 2.47% means a heck of a lot of computers.

Browser usage as of January 2012 - Source: statowl.com

But the grievances don’t exist exclusively for coders, they also exist for the end user. Many workplaces still use IE6 as their main browser, with no alternative available. This means that the end user is forced to endure it’s painfully slow pace and clunky UI.

Internet Explorer's logo, from IE6 to IE9.

But Internet Explorer has come a very long way since IE6. Gone are the multiple windows, clunky interface and slow experience, replaced by a minimal interface, an innovative approach to tab bar placement and many new features.

IE9's clean and minimal UI.

First Impressions

When I opened up IE9 on my PC I was greeted with the usual first time run dialog boxes, such as “Set IE as your default browser” and “Import bookmarks.” What I found quite interesting is that I’ve had this copy of Windows 7 installed for just over 7 months, and in all those 7 months not once was I tempted to even attempt to open IE9. I know I’m not alone in this, as once people get a bad taste in their mouth about something they normally try to avoid it.

The "About IE9" dialog.

My first impressions with the browser were actually quite positive, it opened up the homepage (MSN still exists?!) very fast and it was great to see such a minimal interface on a browser.

So I decided to test it I’d visit our very own Appstorm homepage. It got there just as fast as Chrome would and rendered the page really well.

The Appstorm home in IE9

Of course, there are many things that Chrome had spoiled me with that I fell a bit lost without in IE9. Firstly it’s the in-built apps. I’m a Chrome Tweetdeck loyalist and find Twitter’s web interface to be unbearable, so having to download the desktop version of Tweetdeck to use Twitter efficiently was a bit annoying.

The lack of extensions is also very evident. Internet Explorer has a similar thing to extensions called addons. Sadly, the addons suffer from an extremely limited selection and lack of ones that I’ve become accustomed to in Chrome.

An IE9 add-on.

I’m a really big fan of minimal interfaces that still manage to retain their functionality, and IE9 really hits the nail on the head in this front. The tab bar is placed next to the address bar, rather than the traditional placement where it exists underneath it, taking up an extra row of space.

The need for a bookmark bar is also made redundant by the presence of a ‘Favourite’ button on the address bar. One click on this and you are presented with a list of all of your favourite. Although the necessity of an extra click to access your favourite websites may deter some people, I find the approach to be simple and functional.

The Internet Explorer favourites menu

But Can it Compete With the Top Dogs?

Chrome and Firefox have special places in power users heart and it’s definitely not going to be easy to make them change their mind and revert back to IE9. Chrome’s amazing sync features and Firefox’s unbelievable versatility are why both of these browsers in the first place, but can Internet Explorer convert people?

The three top dogs

If you were to study web browser usage over the course of the past few months you would notice a few recurring patterns. One, Firefox’s market share appears to be shrinking. Two, Internet Explorers market share is also shrinking and three; Chrome’s is on the rise. Chrome’s popularity can either be credited to its massive feature set or because it’s backed by the biggest website in the world; Google.

Google Chrome

Firefox’s dwindling share can be credited to the fact that minimal is the next big thing. Firefox’s approach to minimal isn’t nearly as good as Chrome’s, and it’s obviously very evident to the general public. But it’s customization is much better than Chrome’s. Everything in the browser is customisable, from where the tab bar resides to what color the logo is.

Mozilla Firefox

The reason for Internet Explorer’s dwindling share is easily decoded, bad press. Bad press has plagued Internet Explorer for years. Headlines such as “Exploit hits Internet Explorer” and “**** Announces support dropping IE6 support.” Microsoft has done their best to secure Internet Explorer, and with IE9 they seem to have succeeded.

But just because they have succeeded in making the browser more secure doesn’t necessarily make it better than either Chrome or Firefox. It’s still very un-customisable and it still does not have any innovative features that separate it from the crowd.

Internet Explorer 9

So is it Time to Give IE Another Chance?

In short, no. Although Internet Explorer may have a great UI and share many features with its competitors, it also is missing some critical features that its competitors have nailed. I’d find it very hard to revert to an internet without native browser apps, extensions and sync!

But perhaps in future iterations such as IE10 (which is rumored to be shipping with Windows 8 ) Microsoft will finally begin to add some new, exciting and innovative features which might just merit a retry from people who aren’t a big fan of Internet Explorer!