The Internet Explorer 10 Experiment: Day 2
On 16 January 2013, I posted the introduction to this new experiment of mine: give Internet Explorer another chance by using Internet Explorer 10 on Windows 8 as my primary browser for fourteen days, documenting what I love, what I hate, and what makes me generally say "meh". These are my thoughts from day two of my experience.
I’ve received a lot of feedback on this experiment—people have even been kind enough to recommend these posts on the forums. Responses to my thoughts on each day so far have varied from "Welcome back to Internet Explorer!" to "Yeah, Internet Explorer is fast, but I could never go back to using it." Personally, before I started this experiment, I expected to hate everything about Internet Explorer 10 immediately, to be disgusted by how slow the browser was, and just how crippled a browser Internet Explorer still is.
As I noted yesterday, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Internet Explorer has done a considerable amount of growing-up recently. Microsoft heavily promoted Internet Explorer 9, hoping to slow-down the rapid decline in marketshare Internet Explorer has experienced since 2004. Their strategy doesn’t really seem to be paying off, however, as Internet Explorer has fallen from 84.7%† marketshare in January of 2004 to a dismal 14.7% just this last month, trailing behind Chrome at 46.9% and Firefox at 31.1%.
Well, what has caused this sharp decline in marketshare? Well, for one thing, features like tabbed browsing became a thing. Tabbed browsing was first implemented by a few smaller browsers, then implemented into Opera—and later, Firefox, which popularised the feature. Additionally, Firefox introduced browser add-ons that allowed a user to tweak the browser to how it best fit how they used the browser. Gone were the days of endless toolbars that added minimal functionality increases in exchange for precious browsing space—or toolbars that were mere spyware or crapware of another variety.
With Firefox and its browser add-ons, the web became personal. Control over how content was delivered to the user was never so much in the hands of that user as it had been any time in the past. But Microsoft didn’t really feel threatened by Firefox—the browser that had risen from the ashes of Netscape. Perhaps it was short-sightedness on Microsoft’s part, but they had just won the first great browser war and were content with a near complete dominance of the web world—even Apple’s own computers shipped with Internet Explorer. Development of Internet Explorer continued at a crawl, and Internet Explorer 6—an browser name that is still an absolutely disgusting thing to hear for web developers—all but ceased development completely. Internet Explorer 6 is so hated that now even Microsoft is trying to kill it, yearning for the day when it can happily shout "good riddance".
It took Microsoft five years to release Internet Explorer 7, and while many of its features were a welcome addition, it was looking like it would be too little, too late. By the time Internet Explorer 7 released in 2006, Firefox already had approximately 30% of the market—and its share was only growing quickly. Poor standards implementation and critical security vulnerabilities in Internet Explorer 7 coupled with loyal Firefox 'missionaries’ saw Firefox swiftly eat at Microsoft’s once largely dominant status in the marketplace.
But has Internet Explorer improved in areas necessary for it to make a recovery? Is there enough of a browser extension ecosystem that people will slowly start to return? Or is "Internet Explorer" a brand name that serves as little more than one of the many dark spots on Microsoft’s enormous underpants?
The Internet Explorer Gallery
In my initial impressions yesterday, I was astounded at just how fast Internet Explorer 10 really is. But it got me thinking: are my installations of Chrome, Firefox, Pale Moon, Opera, and Maxthon merely slowed down by add-ons? Is it this absence of add-ons and extensions for Internet Explorer 10 that is giving it this incredible edge in performance?
I took a look at the Internet Explorer gallery—which is basically the equivalent of the Chrome Web Store for Internet Explorer. At first, I was a little impressed by the cleanliness of appearance the store, only to discover that while the store was nice looking, it was covering-up one of the biggest fears I had about Internet Explorer 10: the lack of add-ons.
The Internet Explorer 10 gallery has a grand total of 859 add-ons in its store. 859. That’s barely a fraction of add-on offerings from Firefox and Chrome. What’s more—that total of 859 includes search providers. My most important extension—Web of Trust (WOT) isn’t even available in the Internet Explorer Gallery. I had to go to the developer’s website to download it.
Ad blocking software is also practically non-existent in the Internet Explorer Gallery. Thankfully, I had a helpful commenter here on The Verge tell me about a hosts file replacement that will effectively serve as an ad-blocker. Unfortunately, however, this method of ad-blocking doesn’t let me control which sites have their ads blocked—I can’t whitelist The Verge or Tek Syndicate, for example, and Hulu gets very angry at me because it can’t shove a bazillion ads at me every twenty seconds. Otherwise, the hosts file replacement actually works really well—effectively blocking even pre-roll ads on YouTube, but I do find myself missing traditional AdBlock+, though I have been told that it’s coming.
Favourites and Sites in General Frequently Fail to Load Favicons
Unfortunately, that’s really not the only issue I’ve run into today. Favicons (the little icons that represent a website) only load for a little over half of the websites I visit. This made re-adding all the favourites into my favourites bar today a little annoying as I had to manually add icons to be able to differentiate between about five of my favourites. What’s worse—the custom favicons don’t sync across devices, even though the favourites themselves do.
Favourite Titles: All or Nothing
Yesterday, I commented on the inability of Internet Explorer 10 to allow me to keep my favourites on my favourites bar without any title. I was corrected on this—apparently you can do that. Here’s the problem: it’s an all or nothing situation. While I do want many of the mission-critical favourites to be represented only by their favicons, I really need to actually be able to see folder names on my favourites bar, which IE10 doesn’t let me do. Unlike Google Chrome, I can’t set my preferences per favourite (bookmark), but can only set it as "long titles", "short titles", and "icons only"—for the entire favourites bar.
Favourites in Modern UI are Less than Well-Organised
It would be nice, too, if I didn’t have to scroll through several hundred favourites in the Modern UI version of Internet Explorer 10 just to get to what I want or need. Apparently, folders don’t exist in the Modern UI version of the browser, causing it to dump all of your favourites into a lengthy line of important things and things I really just meant to read later.
Add-ons, Search Settings Not Synced
Because of how Internet Explorer 10 handles add-ons, they aren’t even synced across devices like they are with Google Chrome. This means that if I want to use Web of Trust or Do Not Track Me on each of my machines—I have to manually install it on each of them.
Likewise, search providers are not synced across devices, meaning that I had to manually re-install Google to use it on my laptop. Now, come some time down the road, maybe I’ll do a fourteen day experiment with Bing, but seeing as I’m already having to fight with Internet Explorer to get things setup as I need them, I’m not sure jumping into two new products at the same time is the wisest decision.
There’s something about how Internet Explorer handles smooth scrolling that makes me smile. Previously, it was always one of the very first things I would disable in browsers that included the feature, but after using Internet Explorer 10 with it enabled on each my laptop and desktop—as well as streamed via Splashtop remote through my tablet, I have to admit that the scrolling in Internet Explorer 10 is second to none. It just feels right. Even if it isn’t technically an Android browser, Modern UI Internet Explorer 10 is definitely my favourite browser to use on my Motorola Xoom.
Using a Cluster of .Reg Files to Enable Search Prefixes—How Much do I Have to Hack This Thing?
Now, a member here on The Verge taught me a very handy registry editing trick that allows Internet Explorer to act like Google Chrome when performing searches (using search prefixes). Don’t get me wrong, this particular bit of information was one of the first things that made me think "maybe I could keep using Internet Explorer 10 after all"—but having to edit the registry to enable a feature that has obviously been coded for is a bit absurd. How much do I have to "hack" Internet Explorer to get it to do what it’s supposed to be able to do out of the box?
Now, because this particular information was extremely helpful, I’ve made a small download that includes registry keys to enable prefix searching for a handful of useful search providers—as well as instructions on how to edit them and make more of your own.
Final Thoughts on Day Two
It’s really frustrating, but every time I find something that I really like about Internet Explorer 10, there’s something else—sometimes several something elses that keep me from liking the browser as much as I want to. Understand me: I want Internet Explorer 10 to be a real contender. WebKit domination in the browser space needs to end—it’s not any better for the Internet than Internet Explorer’s domination was back in the day, but today’s experiences have me questioning if Microsoft can sufficiently improve Internet Explorer to bring back the edge it once had in the market.
Internet Explorer’s name is already such a dirty mark on Microsoft as a whole that it makes me wonder whether Microsoft shouldn’t rethink Internet Explorer’s interface entirely and drop the name. What Microsoft would call its new browser is anybody’s guess, but it may be the only way to rid the browser of its cursed reputation.
What Should I Focus on for Tomorrow?
I've focused pretty heavily on some of the aspects of customization including add-ons and search providers. What are other aspects of browser usage at which I should take a closer look for tomorrow’s report?
Also in This Series
† Browser marketshare information from W3Schools. Because this site is a site which tends to have technologically-savvy users, this data may not accurately represent the world market share. For more information, visit Usage Share of Web Browsers on Wikipedia.