Microsoft is taking Internet Explorer in an interesting direction in Windows 8, offering both Metro and desktop variants of the web browser. In the Windows 8 Release Candidate, we see a nearly feature complete vision of this coming IE version, and as expected there have been some interesting changes.
First, the small stuff.
In the Consumer Preview, the IE 10 address bar included a weird extra button called App Switch if the loaded web site also offered a Metro-style app. Now, in the Release Preview, this button is gone—it was silly and superfluous anyway—and put in a far more logical place: The menu that pops up when you click the Page Tools button.
The other small change is that address bar-based search results—including site auto completion and recommended results—now appear directly above the address bar, and thus close to where you’re typing, rather than in rectangular tiles at the top of the screen as before. This presentation is nicer looking and more user friendly, I think.
Most of the rest of Internet Explorer user experience is the same as before, or nearly so, and that’s true of Metro IE, the Metro-based Internet Explorer Settings interface, and the desktop version of IE, which, yes, will look and feel (and work) almost exactly like IE 9. In fact, you might simply consider the desktop version of IE 10 to be IE 9 with the IE 10 rendering engine grafted on.
Well, except for a couple of major changes, that is.
IE 10: Now with Adobe Flash
As Rafael and I discussed previously in Windows 8 Secrets: Internet Explorer 10 Will Ship With Adobe Flash, um, Internet Explorer 10 will ship with Adobe Flash. But now that the Release Preview is a known quantity, or at least public, I can reveal more about how this is going to work.
First of all, Microsoft worked closely with Adobe to build Flash 11.3 right into Internet Explorer 10. It’s not an add-on, or a plug-in, or whatever. It’s integrated code. This is likely unprecedented on any number of levels, but there it is.
Second, in the Metro version of IE, only a subset of Flash 11.3 is available because of battery life, performance, and security reasons. Some Flash functionality that doesn’t make sense in a touch-based environment like Metro—like rollovers—was removed from this version of the browser only. But because of this important change, only certain Flash-based sites will work with IE Metro, and these sites, as reported earlier, can be found in the Compatibility View List. Microsoft told me it worked with Adobe on the set of sites that would be available; they’re primarily for Video, but also for Flash games, and a few other things. The subset was based on what the companies evaluated and will run well in Metro. And sometime soon, Microsoft will explain to developers how they can get their sites on this list.
Third, the desktop version of IE is getting the full Flash 11.3 software, also built-in, and will the complete set of capabilities, including rollover support.
I’ve been using Flash in IE 10 Metro for weeks and it appears to work well. Obviously, the big usage case here is You Tube and related video sites, but I suspect this addition will quell some of the concerns users previously had about the plugin-less nature of IE Metro.
The second major new feature in IE 10—and it works in both the Metro and desktop versions of the browser—is called Flip Ahead. This feature is off by default, but can be enabled, separately, in each version of the browser. (In IE Metro, there is a Flip Ahead switch in Internet Explorer Settings, and on the desktop, you’ll find it under Internet Properties, Advanced, Browsing, in an option called “Enable flip ahead”.)
Flip Ahead works with multi-page articles, search results, and other web pages in which there is a link to “go ahead” to some next page. It doesn’t work with all such pages, and Microsoft indicated that some sites may need to do a bit of work to get this going, while it will essentially crowd-source popular implementations to ensure it’s got good coverage. (That’s why it’s off by default: When you enable Flip Ahead, your browsing history is sent to Microsoft.) But when it does work, it works well.
I don’t use multiple pages in most of my own articles, but it does actually work with my site (and with Windows IT Pro). A more common implementation, perhaps, will be sites like The New York Times, which always break articles up into multiple pages. When you view the first page of such an article, the browser’s “Forward” controls (the Forward button, multi-touch “forward” navigation swipes, and the mouse-based navigational cues in IE Metro) all work. So you can use “Forward” to move forward to page 2 and subsequent pages.
On page one of a multipage article, all the "Forward" UIs light up
It also works well with search results on all the major search engines.
While there are still some very serious questions about Microsoft’s strategy for IE 10 and whether it will afford competing browsers with the some functionality in both the Metro and desktop environments, I like the way this browser is shaping up in the Release Preview. I use IE 10 as my primary browser and will no doubt continue to do so with the Release Preview.
But wait, there’s more!
Discover much, much more about the Windows 8 Release Preview in Windows 8 Release Preview: The Ultimate Delta Guide, a guide to all of the articles I’ve published about this milestone build of Microsoft’s next OS.