IE 7b2, a UI report
(c) Daniel Glazman 31-mar-2006 ; All rights reserved.
Microsoft recently released the second beta of IE 7. I have downloaded it, tried it and felt I have to write about it.
So I took another machine and installed it again, making screenshots of all my installation steps, capturing what I think is good and bad. The result is below.
1st Disclaimer : I did this test as an average user. I did not test the rendering of web sites, I did not test the security enhancements other than looking at the UI, I did not compare IE7b2 with IE6. I may have missed things - if they are well hidden. Or misunderstood things - if they're not clear enough. But there is not a single UI element or feature visible only from the chrome of IE7b2 I deliberately left behind. In that sense, I think this UI report is pretty exhaustive.
2nd Disclaimer : I'm a Mozillian, and used to be a Netscaper. I'm the lead engineer on Nvu, the HTML/XHTML Gecko-based wysiwyg editor. My company does mostly Mozilla-related work. But I really tried to write this report without having Mozilla or Firefox in mind, and tried to be fair.
I went to Microsoft web site and very easily downloaded IE 7 beta 2. But when I tried to install it, the installer complained about the system "You cannot install IE7b2 on this version of the system". It took me only a few seconds to understand that the win box I was using was XP SP1... And IE 7 requires SP 2...
So I installed SP 2, and of course rebooted my machine.
That time, the IE7 installer accepted my configuration and I was happy to see the first dialog (click on an image to enlarge it ; warning, this will NOT work until all images in the document are loaded ) :
I immediately noticed that the two buttons at the bottom of the window have no access keys ; then I moved to the License agreement.
Again, I immediately noticed that you are requested to accept the license in one click while most installers require two clicks, one to check an "I have read and accept the license" checkbox, and one on the "Next" button that is disabled if the checkbox is not checked. The third dialog really puzzled me :
Seriously, why am I asked if I want to install the latest updates for MSIE ? I have launched IE7b2 installer, and IE7B2 is supposed to be the last update of MSIE right ? Furthermore, why is it coupled with the Malicious Software Removal Tool ?
Of course, it's Microsoft. You must have a genuine copy of Windows or installation will fail... Please note that in this dialog, and in previous dialogs too, the Cancel button is redundant with the window close button in the title bar.
Installation went ok (if I except the fact it froze two minutes and seven seconds between 43% and 44%) and, of course, I had to reboot.
Finally, the first IE7b2 window, and that was not the one I expected:
I appreciated the fact no choice was pre-selected and the OK button was disabled, forcing me to make a choice. But the colors of the dialog, not matching at all the colors of the installer, puzzled me a bit. I also found weird to have the OK button above another line, and have two links to read to understand what is the Phishing and this Phishing Filter. I turned the filter off, and closed the dialog. Finally, the first real IE7b2 window...
So, what do we have here ? Oooh, surprise, surprise, the same question I just answered... Do I want to turn the phishing filter on ? And the URL for that beast is runonce2.aspx :-)
Oh, by the way, I clicked on the language selection dropdown menu and found a quite amazing "France" section:
Of course, I refused the Improvement Program and moved on to end up with, at last :
So let's study a bit this new beast...
The whole bar is not customizable at all, and you just cannot move the Reload and Stop buttons to put them after the navigation buttons, for instance.
If you want to use another search engine, you can do that selecting "Find More Providers" above, and it will take you to a page at Microsoft .com offering to add the following search engines to your IE configuration:
A site can offer you to add its own preferred search engine, through JS code like :
where **URL** is the URL of an OpenSearch description of the Search Engine.
As an example, here's the OpenSearch description for Google:
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8" ?>
<Description>Google Web Search</Description>
Funny (and useless) detail, when IE7b2 browses the "Find More Providers" page, the background color of the Search dropdown marker is not blue but orange, to indicate that the web page is in fact a dialog of IE7b2 even if it's in fact a remote resource.
Then the usual Personal links toolbar. Is it just me or the fact the toolbar has no bottom border gives an impression of wiiiiiiiide useless space at the right of the links ? Below that toolbar are the tabs and the... uhhh. well... menu buttons ? Bah, that's probably because my Personal toolbar is empty at this time. That's strange anyway, because an empty personal bookmarks toolbar in Firefox does not give that impression of emptyness and wasted space.
Nothing special about tabs really but a few UI originalities again :
In this group of features, I found the "Restore last tab group" quite strange because I am unable to say what exactly is a tab group. If I open a tab group from my favorites and add a new tab, then switch to another tab group and finally restore the last tab group, do I end up with my original tab group or the one with the tab I created ? Hmmm ? Try it ! Oh, by the way, no key shortcut is mentioned in the menupopup, and key shortcuts on tabs are very useful.
and honestly, I could not believe my eyes : if you want to turn Tabbed Browsing on or off, you have to close and relaunch IE. Same thing to Enable the ExposéQuickTabs mode. Wow. To hide a button (the Exposé one) and disable a feature's API, you have to start and relaunch ? Wow.
I also found this dialog hard to deal with : too much text, unclear text. No groupbox, no icon, only text. Let me give you an example : "Open home page for new tabs instead of a blank page". What happens if your home page is a group of tabs ? Are you going to open a group of tab each time you create a new tab ?-) Ah, no, in that case, you open the url in the tab group you use as home page. I really doubt this option is useful, it looks like a useless geekery to me.
So where are all the features that usually live in the menubar ? There's no menubar here. Hmmm, let's try the buttons, above the content area.
Please note my IE7b2 inherited a few add-ons from my IE6 times, but even if have PLENTY of space at the left of the Home button, I am totally unable to resize the toolbar ; unchecking the Lock Toolbars option shows a grip for other toolbars, but not that one. On a second computer, I DO HAVE a grip for that toolbar, and on a third one THAT IS AN EXACT CLONE OF THE SECOND ONE, I can't get the grip. Oops.
The "Home" button allows you to browse any of your home pages, remove a page from you home pages, and change your home pages.
If you choose Change Home Page, you get the following dialog :
Please note this one has an icon, while not all IE7b2 dialogs have one. Different people, different designs... I had to very carefully read the text of three options to find the action I wanted, and I dislike this dialog because EVERY time I open it, I have to read again very carefully the three options. The Yes/No option is weird, why not an Ok/Cancel dialog as usual ? And do we really need Ok/Cancel anyway ? Why not a fourth option "No change" and only the window's close button ? This is UI bloat.
Nothing special in the Print button. Print, Print Preview and Print Setup. As usual with Microsoft, the Print Preview is superb :
It allows to specify the page margins with the mouse and that's VERY cool. You can also turn on and off the display/print of headers and footers with one single click. Very cool, clearly an area of strength for IE7b2.
So there's a Page button. I know it's "Page" because that's what the tooltip shows when you hover over the button of show the text attached to the button. I am mentioning this only because the icon for that button is not look like a page, but more like an application !
So it's a page... But I have no idea what kind of feature a "Page" button is supposed to provide me with. Let's see...
Wow... That's only a mix of File, Edit and View... And where's the Open entry ? Are the only ways to open a file or location the addressbar and the Ctrl-L shortcut (oh, and Ctrl-O is the same as Cctrl-L..).?
Hmmmm, and Edit menu entry ???? When is it enabled ? I have several HTML/XHTML editors here, and one of them registers for the mime type text/html. Why is the entry disabled then ?
The Zoom feature is very nice, and works like Opera's, the first perfect Zoom implementation . It zooms just everything. Perfectly. You also have Text Zoom that applies only, what a surprise, to text. Play with both, to resize the size of the whole page but preserve readability. It's a pity there's not an option "Preserve readability" in the Zoom menu to increase Text Zoom when you decrease Page Zoom and vice-versa. It would be a minimal medium-screen rendering.
The Zoom factor can also be set from the statusbar, but not the Text Zoom factor. To do that simply, you need to customize your buttons toolbar and add a Font Size button. But not in the statusbar.
View Source calls your *.txt viewer, as always ; yes, it means Notepad if you don't have better. Yes, I was expecting a bit more from a browser to be released in 2006.
and when you select an entry and click on Summary, you get a "summary report" for the URL selected. Wow. This goes so far beyond the understanding of an average user of Web browser... Oh, and it has an icon too. And a Settings button should not share an horizontal line with a Close button.
Ah, tools... Something new here ? Well yes !
Yummy, yummy !
(As I already said above, the "Restore Last Tab Group" seems to me a geeky useless feature.)
Delete Browsing History is a bad title for that menu entry. In fact it opens a new dialog to clear all your internet tracks :
No icon this time, we still have an About text on the left side of buttons, and the icon does not go away with the Esc key.
And finally in IE, a popup blocker. This time, we have an icon AND two groupboxes :-)
First thing to notice, there is not pre-loaded "Microsoft white list", and that's good ; I still remember the days AOL was adding itself to Netscape's whitelist... Other than that, nothing strange here. On the popup blocker side, I am quite skeptical though since CNN showed me a popup, and I easily crashed IE7b2 on another popup (the error message seems unrelated, but IE crashed exactly when the popup appeared) :
When a window tries to open a popup, you have two different notifications : one in the content area above the window, and one in the statusbar. They both serve exactly the same purpose.
If you click on that bar, you open a popup (isn't it cool for a popup blocker ?-) menu allowing you to accept the popup :
The "More information" entry is weird. There's not a single other popup in IE7b2 having such a "help" menu entry !
As I told you before, I originally refused the Phishing Filter. So I turned it on through this menu.
In that case, sites you browse are tested against a black list, and you can report a suspected phishing site to Microsoft through this menu or the corresponding icon in the statusbar. It takes you directly to Microsoft, and no, I did not report CNN.com as a phishing web site.
I am clearly not the best tester for this feature... I never got any computer infected by a virus, I never clicked on a phishing link. This feature is totally useless to me so it's hard to report objectively about it.
Of course, if you really think about it, activating the Automatic Phishing Filter means a commercial company partially knows about the sites you're browsing. Even if it's anonymous and if your privacy is respected.
Ah. IE7 allows add-ons. This is new to me, what sort of add-ons manager do we have here ?
Uuuhhh. Wow. Is this supposed to be simply usable by average people ? Because in case it is, well, I am sorry to say this is a failure. This is an hyper-geeky blurb that requires a so high level of knowledge almost nobody will ever use it.
Using this dialog, I even ended up with the following list :
Why do I have to see this ???
We will discuss Full Screen later, since it really deserves a whole section here. IE's Internet Options were not updated between IE6 and this IE7b2, and we still have to play with a long list of options and a non resizable not UI-friendly dialog.
The Help button is what you think it is.
Globally, I don't like these buttons so I wanted to restore the original UI of IE. I right-clicked in the toolbars and selected "Classic menu" to finally get a menubar... Ahhhhhh :-)
Ohhhhhh, it appears below the addressbar !!! Bah, Microsoft is well known for the highly customizable toolbars of Office and other tools, let's move that.
Urgh, impossible. It's totally impossible to move the menubar, or the option is so well hidden you need to be Jeff Raskin to find it. Ah, he's dead. Bad luck, guys...
Anyway, I finally have a menubar and I'm happy with it. Now can I hide the Home/Page/Print/Tools buttons ? Nope. So I have basically two menubars in this app, and I can't get rid of the second one...
Can I move the buttons to the right of the menubar using the grippy thing that appears if I context-click and unselect "Lock the toolbars" ? Ah yes. Well no. I could do it ONLY ONCE. Now the grip strongly refuses to obey and I cannot move back the toolbar to its original location, or any other location...
The whole thing sounds really buggy, and it's a real pain to use it. The customizability of these toolbars is very low, far from what you can expect when you have customized other Microsoft products like Office of even Visual Studio.
The round little star button at the beginning of the line above the content area opens an undocked sidebar. When I say undocked, I mean it covers the web page without changing the viewport. I originally though hey what a cool idea, bu you'll see below I ended up with weird cases.
If you give focus to another window and come back to IE7b2, the undocked sidebar is gone ; I think this is a completely silly decision and a better option would have been to make the sidebar go away after thirty seconds of inactivity in the sidebar, with a transparency fade out.
That undocked sidebar can show your bookmarkfavorite, your RSS feeds and your history. Here's what the whole thing looks like when the sidebar is docked, clicking on the little green icon on the right hand side of the sidebar :
At that point, I played the devil's advocate, and used the View menu to show history instead of clicking on the sidebar's history tab.... I ended up with two history panels !
I first opened my browsing history through the dockable sidebar.
and immediately missed the search field in Firefox's history. To perform a search, you need to use the dropdown menu in the History button and choose Search History.
Then your history disappears (yep, blank sidebar !) and you end up with that :
So you enter some text and instead of having a dynamic refresh, you need to press the Search Now, as if your browsing history was sooooooo big it can be as long as a remote SQL request. And as a matter of fact, the search takes INCREDIBLY long.... I mean my current browsing history on this IE7b2 has no more than 50 entries, and searching "glaz" in 50 entries takes so much time I can see each individual entry appear in the search results !!! Wow... This is clearly very suboptimal and should be changed as soon as possible. It's just not usable as it is.
To give an example, the following results extracted from a ~50 items history took 2.3 seconds (!!!!) to appear ! And my laptop is not an ol'timer, it is a P4M 2.4GHz with 1Gig of RAM from 2003.
Now, let's go back to History's normal view again. Hum. How ? No close button. Let's clear the text field... Ah no effect. Something in the dropdown menu maybe ? Sigh, yes, you have to select a sort order to go back to the normal view ! Why isn't there a close button allowing you to go back to your previous state and currently selected sort order ?
Microsoft says high and clear that RSS integration in IE is one of its big plusses. Let's try that. From the sidebar again, I clicked on the Feeds buttons
and got that
Clicking on an entry opens the corresponding feed in the main window of IE7. It does not open a new tab, but always uses the active tab in IE7. I could not find an option to make it automatically happen in a new tab. You need to context-click the entry to do that.
An entry becomes bold when there are new articles available. And a small button allowing to refresh a feed's headlines appear when you hover over the corresponding entry. I was unable to find a way to update all feeds' headlines at once.
The IE7b2 view of a feed is superb I must say. It gives a default stylesheet and behaviours (I suspect the presence of a few HTCs there):
All entries are very well presented, the green arrow allows to go the corresponding article on the web site. The right hand side panel is fixed positioned (yes !) and allows to search and sort articles :
Feeds are automatically detected when you browse a site and the now famous orange icon above the tabs becomes clickable and allows to subscribe to a given feed provided by the current page :
A choice in this menu opens the subscription dialog :
Again, I hate having a help line below the Ok/Cancel buttons line, but it's just me and others may like it.
From a context click on a feed entry in the sidebar, you can edit the properties of that feed :
Please note that the help line "About feeds" is not this time below the dialog buttons... The default properties dialog for feeds is the following one :
Ah, by the way, the sound IE7b2 plays when a page is loaded is different from the one IE6 used to play. It's not a "tick" anymore, it's more like "tock-tick". I love browser innovation...
Almost nothing to say here. The same as always, probably last updated in 1997. Very disappointing.
If you click on the little arrow at the right of a folder of favorites, you will open all bookmarks in that folder into individual tabs.
The favorites manager is NOT REACHABLE through the favorites sidebar (wow !) and is not even reachable through the Home/Page/Tools buttons ! So, to open your bookmarks manager, you MUST enable the "Classic menubar" that is NOT enabled by default in IE7b2 and use that menubar... Hum, to say the least.
NOTE : I later found that you can act on the favorites sidebar by context-click and through the standard explorer's menu entries (create folder, delete, copy, paste). But reusing the explorer's context menu there is bad since I also have all the options coming from my system add-ons like AntiViral detection, Tortoise CVS, browse with PaintShop Pro, Add to ZIP Archive, etc. I think that has nothing to in a Favorites manager... And you still can't select multiple favorites to put them a in a new folder at once since multiple selection is not allowed.
When you want to add a favorite, the simplest way to do that is certainly to click on the big yellow plus at the left hand side of tabs. Just so the reader knows, I was initially 100% sure this icon was here to create a new tab... So a click there opens a new dialog, a classic one :
but that dialog has one of the largest More/Fewer sections ever :
A More/Fewer section of one line showing an important feature that should be presented by default to the user. That's a joke, right ?
Aaaaah, what a nice feature. IE7b2 has a superb full screen mode. I wanted to really mean full 100% full screen. But hell, no, that's not 100% full screen and that's certainly a mistake. But first, let's take a look at what happens when you press F11 :
IE7b2 takes the whole screen, including the space for the windows taskbar and shows IE7 toolbars and status bar. Please note that the normal menubar (File, Edit, View, ...) is NOT present in this mode even if you asked for it in normal window mode. Surely a bug.
After a few seconds, the toolbars go away (and appear again if you hit the top border of the screen with your mouse pointer) BUT THE STATUS BAR REMAINS !!!
Why ??? For security reasons to show the icons at the bottom ? Come on ! The status bar could appear and fade away when anything in the statusbar changes of status.
I have just taken screenshots of the new Internet Options.
I have only one comment to make here : this last panel above is extremely painful because the window is (has never been) resizable, and because it's an awfully long list of text options. This is really a Windows 3.1-like UI.
In terms of UI, this IE 7 beta 2 certainly does not feel like a beta, id est something not far away from final version. The whole UI seems unpolished and is sometimes very inconsistent. Accessibility is low, a lot of menus, dialogs and options having no shortcut or even accesskey.
It really seems the graphics design - and even more iconography - is done without general direction, reusing bits coming from elsewhere, without graphical charter.
I saw the sudden appearance of help links below or at the left hand side of dialog buttons as a terrible annoyance, since everyone has spent years and years closing dialogs and windows through buttons on the last line of dialogs or close buttons in title bars ; like a human language and an Academy trying to rule it (hear French and the French Academy), this is the kind of things you cannot change just deciding you're going to change it.
The new buttons bar replacing the now disabled-by-default classic menubar is from my perspective almost unusable ; the position of a given menu entry inside a given menu is not intuitive, and hard to remember. Adding UI customization allowing to completely modify the menubar and turn the menu titles into icons seems to me a solution ten times better than the current UI paradigm.
Some features in this IE7 are so geeky (the add-ons manager for instance) that only people with knowledge of Computer Science can use them. The popup blocker seems to me weak, and unable to block very common popups like the CNN.com international/US edition changer.
Feeds management has nothing impressive. In fact, it's even poor compared to the first shareware aggregators available on the Web for IE6. On the contrary, the presentation of feeds in the content window is superb, and clearly suffers from the lack of an improved feeds manager.
UI problems hide rapidly the good things in this IE7b2 : an excellent Full Screen mode, a very nice Zoom, a superb Print Preview, RSS integration and tabs.
Overall, and if I compare Firefox 1.0 or Firefox 1.5 and IE7b2, Firefox is far ahead of IE in terms of usability, accessibility, extensibility.