Taking Microsoft's IE7 out on its sea trials

Microsoft released the latest beta of IE7 as a public beta this week.  I resisted the urge to download the previous beta's deciding to wait until it was legal and all of the initial complaints and niggles had been ironed out.  Installation was painless, with the only awkward moment being the required restart of Windows before it was ready to use.

After reboot, all my IE icons had changed to the new IE7 logo and I was ready to get started.  Firing it up, the first thing you notice is a lack of menu bar.  No vertical real estate is lost with fluff, and the address bar is the first thing you see at the top of the page with 2 buttons, forward and backward.  The toolbar has been cleverly designed to maximise space while still giving you access to the most frequently used action items.

The first FireFox cloned feature you come across is the integration of the search bar in the main window.  Out of the box, only MSN is enabled, but it doesn't require more than a couple of clicks to get Google in there (or a number of others).  Microsoft gives you the interface should you wish to add in a 3rd party search engine.

Naturally the big FireFox clone has been the inclusion of tabs.  These work very nicely and I have no complaints with them.  The only thing that you can't do with them is drag them to change their order.  In addition to being able to bookmark a group of tabs, there is a nice little feature that lets you see all your tabs in one window.  That works very well.  FireFox has a plugin to offer the same functionality, but in all fairness, the rendering within IE is a lot smoother and faster than the FireFox plugin.

There is a small feature inspired from Opera, and that is the ability to view a page in a zoomed in or out mode.  Not quite sure how useful this is to the majority of internet users.

The RSS side of things is sweet with the usual self-discovery popup when it finds a site that has an RSS feed.  It handles multiple RSS feeds per page very well allowing you to choose which one you desire.  One of the nice features was the viewing of the an RSS feed; their default stylesheet for this makes navigating the feed very easy, including pulling out all the tags and allow you to click on a tag to read that given entry.

Interestingly enough, the one heavy AJAX application I tried, was Google Maps, which failed miserably.  The underlying map wasn't being updated and when I zoomed in, things didn't respond.  I thought maybe it was network problems, but after switching to FireFox, that was ruled out quickly.  Be interesting to see how others report how various AJAX applications work.  Could this be IE7's achilles heal?

The overall rendering engine feels solid with IE7 and the output is stunning.  Fonts look crisp and images load fast.  Within an hour, IE7 sadly crashed quite a bit, especially coming out of AJAX pages, which isn't a good sign.  Memory usage though was way lower than FireFox.  Running both up from cold and surfing to the same pages, closing the pages etc, FireFox was some 40MB more than IE7, with IE7 releasing memory back after a period of idle.  FireFox sadly never releases the memory back.

So, with all that said and done will I switch?  Short answer - not yet.  The fact it crashes often is going to frustrate many and its inability to handle even the mainstream AJAX applications causes me concern.  Many of the popular plugins that makes FireFox popular have been integrated into the core system, but I couldn't find any hint of a plugin API for developers to extend the browser.

IE7 will no doubt be popular, but I hope Microsoft iron out the AJAX and stability problems before they make it publicly available.


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