The IE9 Release Candidate, which Microsoft posted today, may change all that again. IE9 is the first Microsoft browser in years that has me excited about UI development. Finally, I can see a future void of the many CSS hacks necessary to get a page to play nice with IE. There are five features in this release candidate I am excited about as a UI developer.
1. CSS 3. CSS 3 comes with loads of new features that will help make web-based apps feel and function more like desktop based apps. From a pure visual perspective, rounded corners comes to IE for the first time. At this time Safari 5 and IE9 are the only ones to implement it without special browser markup.
2. HTML5. With IE9 more developers can jump on the HTML5 bandwagon. Including myself. Support for canvas and video will go a long way towards making online video a ton easier to develop.
3. Hardware Acceleration. This one is huge. Not only does it bring with it significant speed increase, but it also results in fantastic looking graphics and text. No UI designer wants to design a great-looking site only to have it look terrible to most of the people who will see it. I’m a huge fan of TypeKit, and IE9 does an awesome job of displaying type from this service. In my opinion type looks better on the Mac, but most people don’t view the web on Macs. Most are on Windows PCs. And when it comes to IE9 vs. Chrome or Firefox, my sites (and hopefully yours too) look way better in IE9. Not only that, they load faster.
4. Jump Lists. I am particularly excited about this one. With IE9 sites can be saved onto the toolbar and launched just like any other application. With Windows 7 any icon on the toolbar has a jump list. IE9 allows developers to customize the jump list. For instance, if you run a sports site, you can store different sports categories in the list so that when a user clicks the NCAA Football link it will take them to that page. This feature is definitely blurring the line between desktop and web-based applications.
5. Developer! Developer! Developer Tools! I never really cared much for the developer tools in IE. In IE9 improvements were made and I think these tools are a lot easier to use now than before. While they won’t convert me from FireBug, I have to give Microsoft some credit here: the new Networking and CSS tab enhancements are welcome. The CSS tab organizes CSS files a lot nicer and will make debugging CSS issues a lot easier.
I love the new IE9 and it will become one of the browsers I use on a regular basis. I definitely will start taking Internet Explorer more seriously from a developer perspective. The tools are nice. The hardware acceleration and CSS 3/HTML 5 compliancy were a long time coming.
But there is one thing that really concerns me as a developer: updates. Microsoft usually has taken a long time to develop new versions of Internet Explorer, while Chrome is updated on a more frequent cadence sometimes adding new support for CSS 3 or HTML 5. I hope that Microsoft does not intend to wait another 2 years to update IE. If it does, we will probably find ourselves back where we started: where every browser supports modern standards, except for IE.
Robert Johnson is a user interface developer specializing in the user experience (UX) of .NET-based web applications. He has been working in some form of web development and graphic design for 14 years. He loves technology in general, particularly that of Apple, Google and Microsoft. He is a Betanews reader.