Contrary to some reports, Internet Explorer 7 will probably not roll out automatically to Windows users in tomorrow’s Patch Tuesday update; it will come out some time after Thursday according to indications from the IE 7 team blog. One way or the other now seems like a good time to give it a look. There are some much needed improvements in the Beta version of IE. Most of those were appear inspired by smaller, more innovative browsers. More innovation leveraging the network effects of IE’s huge marketshare would be interesting instead of coming out with another browser that best serves individual users alone.
First I’ll provide an overview of the good news, followed by a list of the top 10 things I wish were included in IE 7 in order for me to get excited about it.
The Good News
IE 7 is much more pleasing to the eye than previous versions, by a long shot. There’s a screen shot at the very end of this post if you haven’t seen the Release Candidate 1 interface. There are parts of it that look a lot like Flock, in fact.
It supports tabbed browsing. Tabs are quite easy to work with and there’s a very nice option to view preview panes of all your tabs on one screen – great for dealing with tab overload.
You can subscribe to RSS feeds in the browser; OPML files can be imported and exported with ease. Full feeds can be viewed when published and you can administer the feed reader with some detail (auto download of enclosures and individually scheduled refreshes for example) but there are still major problems with the new implementation of RSS here. Many people have said that RSS in IE7 will mean an explosion of RSS reading amongst non-technical users. I am not so sure that’s the case at all, but more on that later.
There’s finally a search box in the corner of the browser and there are highly touted anti-phishing controls. You can easily choose to have your current tabs reopened the next time you open IE.
There is also integration of Windows .NET messenger, but more on that later.
If Only Things Were Different…
There are a lot of shortcomings still. Over all it’s an improvement and I’m thankful that if nothing else tabbed browsing will be spread around the world. Some people might say I’m just looking for feature overload, but there are clearly a lot of new features already being added. I’d just like to see a few more and better implementation of what’s coming in this release.
From the realistic to the fanciful, here are some things I wish the world’s biggest browser was offering in its newest iteration.
1. Useful RSS viewing
Without a “river of news option” to view all of my feeds or all the feeds in a single folder at one time, I may as well just click through a list of browser favorites. The option to click through one feed at a time falls far short of the potential that RSS offers and as things stand the feed view in IE 7 is just a way to look at one page at a time, perhaps with truncated entries and without page design. The option to automatically download enclosures is the only part of RSS that this implementation succeeds at.
2. One click RSS subscription
Believe it or not, when the browser detects a feed on a page you still have to view that feed and then chose to subscribe with another click. I fantasize about a day when I’ll be able to view all the feeds from the domain I’m at, but for now at least make it easy to quickly subscribe to.
3. Tagging and Online Access to Favorites
Tagging is useful. It’s how one item can be classified and thus discovered in multiple ways. Folders may be the preferred way to organize favorites or feeds for most people, but the option to view by tags would be very helpful. Likewise, online access to my favorites and feeds while away from my computer is something that everyone would appreciate. Watch some one’s eyes light up when you tell them that what we call social bookmarking lets them access their bookmarks from any computer.
4. Drag and Drop Organization
If you’re going to give me folders, at least make it easy for me to move items around in them. Most other online feed readers support this now.
5. Multimedia in the Feed Reader
Bloglines and some other feed readers now support viewing of video files inside their UI. IE 7 strips files like embedded videos from the feed reader view.
6. Social Annotation
IE has such market dominance that it only makes sense to let all those users communicate with each other about the pages they visit if they so chose. Take a page from StubleUpon or some of the many attempts to offer a wiki sidebar tied to each URL. It would be good if IE’s market share was able to be leveraged by users and not just as a means for Microsoft to profit.
Likewise, P2P can be powerful in the browser. See the newest version of Opera, it has BitTorrent baked in. I know – that couldn’t be more unrealistic from IE, but wouldn’t it make sense? Even a DRM locked down P2P system would be smart for much faster downloads.
8. Support for User Control of Attention Data
See the FireFox plugin from AttentionTrust.org. The ability to capture, leverage and selectively expose our online activities will some day be considered a basic civil right. I know it’s fanciful but it would be great if Microsoft made more moves in that direction sooner rather than later.
9. Full Cross Platform IM Compatibility
Windows Live Messenger announced IM compatibility with Yahoo! Messenger with Voice in July. There are a limited number of other cross platform compatibilities that various IM providers have announced. The IM in IE7 doesn’t appear to even work with Yahoo! Why couldn’t they have just ended this charade and built or bought a cross platform IM program? Is that too much to ask?
10. Standards Compliance
IE 7 is reported to be the most standards compliant version of the browser yet, but it would be great if the bully attitude was dropped and full WC3 compliance was at least aimed for. Instead the web gets a warning that IE7 is coming and that everyone had better test their applications to see if they will work in the new browser. Standards create a common space in which to innovate, it’s that simple. See comments below for discussion of this in particular.
10.5 Office Online
This may be far fetched enough to not even make the top 10 list, but look at what Google and startups like Zoho are doing. That’s the future. Let me do as much as possible through my browser, give me freedom from any one physical location, let me leverage network effects where appropriate.
It may not be fair to mark the release of a major new product with reflection on what it could have been; but given the circomstances of huge market adoption of IE and incredible innovation around the rest of the web – I hope I gave sufficient recognition to the good news at the top of this post. The bottom line is that IE should keep looking at what others are doing but move faster than it is.