You're the God of IE. Now what?

by Preston Gralla

Imagine that you're the product manager in charge of the next version of Internet Explorer, the beta of which is due this summer. You're the God of IE, in charge of the whole shebang, and so you get to decide what to add, what to improve, and what to kill.

What would you do?

I have a short list of what I'd like to see done to IE:

  • Add tabbed browsing, so that you can visit many sites simultaneously. Why Microsoft hasn't done this yet is one of computing's great mysteries.

  • Untangle IE from the operating system. Having the two tied together means that an attack on IE is an attack on your entire computer. So separate them.

  • Kill ActiveX. It's flat-out too insecure.

  • Include anti-phishing tools. IE should be able to warn you away from spoof sites. Microsoft says this feature is on its list. That's good news, but I'll believe it when I see it.

  • Build anti-spyware features into the browser. Despite some flaws, the beta of Microsoft Antispyware is one of the best anti-spyware tools available. But a good deal of spyware gets installed straight from the web, so those tools should be built into the browser as well.

There's more I'd like to see as well, but that's top of my list. How about you, though? If you were the God of IE, what would you do to the browser?

If you were in charge of Internet Explorer, how would you change it?


2005-02-22 16:11:41
How about spending a few million on some innovation?
How about spending a few million on some innovation?

Is that the best you can do? You want Microsoft IE to become Microsoft Firefox?

I thought Microsoft was a leader in innovation? Hell, thats why they need patents to protect brilliant inventions like 'InNot'.

Wheres all my licensing fees going? Are they now in the business of catch-up? Or are they spending it all on fixing their past mistakes?

2005-02-22 16:13:06
Untangling from the OS
MS used the excuse that its impossible to untangle IE from the OS as their defense during the anti-trust case.

So if they do so, wouldn't they get into hot water with the Justice Department?

Calling Judge Kollar-Kotelly!

2005-02-22 16:41:16
Gmail has it
Anti-phishing. Noticed it this AM - put a nice bright banner above an e-mail to warn me that the e-mail I'd selected was suspect (and of course it was in fact a phishing e-mail). nice.

What sort of functionality should a browser have to prevent phishing?

2005-02-22 16:43:34
Some ideas
Add support for collapse-to-zoom, a feature developped by a MS researcher (Patrick Baudisch's project page). Or even better: support it through an extension.

Do a threat model with phishing, scripting and usability in mind: the tab that spawned a popup should be clearly identifiable, same for security dialogs,...
See Ka Ping-Yee's Secure Interaction Design.

2005-02-22 20:41:38
standards compliance
First things first, is to make sure it renders all the web specs correctly. Not an all out web designer yet, but it would be nice to get to the point where CSS on one browser works the same (or damn near it) on the other. Just about everywhere you go, you find 'hacks' to make your CSS work in IE.

2005-02-22 22:38:22
standards compliance
Yes! Yes! Yes! Everything else is just fluff. I'm afraid that they will just add chrome features that match or exceed what firefox offers but miss the bigger point. Firefox without tabs or any other 'features' is much better at rendering standards based markup. That's what makes firefox so much better than IE.
2005-02-23 03:11:10
make it get the basics right first
I mean how hard is it to support PNG properly!

Then there are the hundreds of bugs and problems in its CSS, HTML and Javascript.

I don't think IE as it stands is really usable. I really don't think they can match Firefox with IE7 - its trailing so far behind that the best they can do is steal some of the shiny bits and leave it almost as broken as before.

To be honest I don't care about IE7, many many many people will never be able to run it (Mac, Windows pre-XP, *nix) and it will always be tied to ActiveX and the Kernel.

It would be better to leave it as the file browser and rollout with a branded firefox. If the OEMs had any sense they would be following the lead of AskJeeves and Google - and providing a branded and nicely pre-configured Firefox and Thunderbird instead of outbreak and exploder.

2005-02-23 08:46:18
How about spending a few million on some innovation?

I expect that IE7 will see a lot in innovation, most likely in the "fluffy client-side lets encourage developers to write IE only sites again" line of development.

I don't expect them to bother fixing their past mistakes. Since most websites have to work in IE (since it still has the lion's share of the market), Microsoft gains nothing by fixing their support for standards. So I bet that they will still be lagging light years behind Gecko (Mozilla, Firefox, Netscape), KHTML (Konqueror, Safari) and Opera when it comes to getting the basics (HTML, CSS, PNG) right.

2005-02-23 08:51:07
IE7 To Do List


  • fix the <object> tag
  • fix the <abbr> tag
  • fix table headers and footers
  • make <optgroup>s work as in MacIE (submenus)
  • any XHTML support (with the right MIME type)
  • full CSS 2 support (there's a lot to do here: box model, selectors, @import media, dynamic pseudo-classes, min/max-width/height, content, quotes, counters, display)
  • full DOM support
  • window.confirm() should ask a yes-or-no question, not an OK-or-cancel question
  • PNG transparency support
  • a complete Unicode font
  • a link bar
  • data: URLs
  • Link: HTTP headers
  • 301 Moved Permanently to update bookmarks
  • 205 Reset Content for data entry applications
  • some kind of RSS support
2005-02-23 08:59:10
See also: The Browser Dereliction Report

The Browser Dereliction Report

2005-02-23 09:04:00
Channel9 Feedback

It will, I think be very telling to see if they pay any attention to the feature list they themselves solicited from developers: standards & other.

2005-02-23 12:08:50
Mac users... yawn
For those on the Mac its irrelevant - IE on the Mac stopped development several years ago. There's plenty of good browsers to use: Safafi, Firefox, Opera, Shiira, Camino to name a few.

Personally, I'd move this from what IE ought to do, to what web browsers ought to do with IE in that context.

Some of the points the OP raised (certainly the first two) are already addressed on the other browsers available.

FWIW, making some websites compatible between "the rest" and IE/PC has wasted hours of my development time; I now encourage clients to look at one of several non-IE browsers that have better standards complience. In particular affecting my use has been that IE's implementation of div tags seems almost dimetrically opposed to everyone else's. CSS2 support on IE is very poor and its possible that the CSS specs and the internal rendering in IE/PC don't get along. As I understand it, Gecko was written from scratch with CSS at hand.

2005-02-23 16:12:21
IE shouldn't kill ActiveX
Rather than kill ActiveX, IE should prevent it from being downloaded as part of a page's content. Even with the "Do you want to install ..." dialog, it is just too great a security risk. The user is presented with sketchy info as to what is going to be installed and why. In their minds they have the choice of downloading who know what or risking the content they are interested in failing to be fully functional.

IMHO, ActiveX is a perfectly good extension mechanism for the browser. My company, Design Science, uses it to implement MathML support in IE via our free MathPlayer plugin. It can display mathematical content whose fonts, point sizes, and position adapt to the surrounding text. Popular screen readers allow blind users to have web pages read aloud and they are able to call our plugin to get the text to speak for each equation all using standard interfaces.

We would like to be able to do the same for other browser but, quite frankly, their extension mechanisms are not even close to being up to the task. As I understand it, the MathML support in Mozilla is much more hard-wired into the browser.


2005-02-24 03:18:27
Re: You're the God of IE. Now what?

In order of decreasing importance:

  • Remove the ability to install ActiveX on the fly, add an explicit installation mechanism, much like Firefox handles XPIs.
  • Get rid of the security zones model, it is broken to begin with.
  • Include something like IEController.
  • Fix PNG support.
  • Implement full CSS 2.1 support.
  • Implement XHTML support and handle application/xhtml+xml correctly.
  • Add tabbed browsing.

Of course, I expect none of that to happen.

2005-02-24 06:48:01
What do Microsoft want though?
It'd be great to see Microsoft update IE to add all the features listed here, but lets not forget that IE is still the most popular browser in the world. If they make it conform to HTML/CSS standards properly then all those sites that don't work in Firefox will suddenly not work in IE!

I doubt Microsoft would be happy releasing a browser which, to millions of users, suddenly won't load their favourite website.

This then means Microsoft will end up having to write the browser so that it correctly renders the tags, and incorrectly (for compatibility). Sound familiar? Yeah, that'd be DOS compatibility mode again!

My advice would be for Microsoft to release a standalone browser called something new and to let IE die a death.

2005-02-26 03:27:32
What do Microsoft want though?
They've already made an update to IE from 5.5 to 6.0 which might've broken a lot sites written towards IE 5.x which didn't break anything: they fixed the box model in 6.0. And they achieved this by way of DOCTYPE switching. I don't believe it would be all too difficult to pull the same trick again, whether by way of DOCTYPE switching or in some other way.
2005-02-27 01:36:44
Oh, just one feature
i'd only like to see an uninstall feature. plain and simple. maybe an "uninstall and UPGRADE to firefox" button. IE is as deader than punchCards are. Good (Tragically delayed) ridance!!!
2005-03-02 17:06:57
IE shouldn't kill ActiveX
Why did you write it in Java, so users could get that spoken-word-equation feature in ALL browsers?

Or, write another version for mozilla's extension?

Why limit yourself to IE?