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IE8: What’s After Beta 2

I guess they took my strident feedback about Beta 2 seriously: IE 8 pretty much breaks the Web at this point. But as Dean Hachamovitch, the General Manager of Internet Explorer notes, there’s still work to be done before Microsoft can release its next browser:

Since the release of Beta 2, the team has been absorbed in the data we get from real people about the product. We have combed through instrumentation of over 20 million IE sessions and hundreds of hours of usability lab sessions. Together with IE MVPs, we have scrutinized thousands of threads from user forums and examined the issues that people are raising (not to mention all the times users opt to “Report a Webpage Problem…”). We have also spent hundreds of hours listening and answering questions in meetings with partners and other important organizations. We simply could not deliver IE8 the way our customers and developers want us to without all this information. We also received a lot of feedback about how we transitioned from the IE7 beta releases to the IE7 final release, and as a result, we want to be clear about the plan for IE8.

We will release one more public update of IE8 in the first quarter of 2009, and then follow that up with the final release. Our next public release of IE (typically called a “release candidate”) indicates the end of the beta period. We want the technical community of people and organizations interested in web browsers to take this update as a strong signal that IE8 is effectively complete and done. They should expect the final product to behave as this update does. We want them to test their sites and services with IE8, make any changes they feel are necessary for the best possible customer experience using IE8, and report any critical issues (e.g., issues impacting robustness, security, backwards compatibility, or completeness with respect to planned standards work). Our plan is to deliver the final product after listening for feedback about critical issues.

We will be very selective about what changes we make between the next update and final release. We will act on the most critical issues. We will be super clear about product changes we make between the update and the final release.

The call to action now for the technical community is to download beta 2 (if you haven’t already) and let us know about your experience. Next, please prepare for final testing with public update so you can let us know – quickly, loudly, and clearly – if you find absolutely critical issues with it before the release of the final product.

Some general notes about IE 8 Beta 2 and things that need to be fixed before Microsoft signs off on this release:

1. As noted previously, it’s hugely incompatible with the Web in ways that browsers like Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, and Apple Safari are not. This is a first for IE, of course, and I’m sure they’ll fix that.

2. IE 8 Beta 2 performance is horrible. One thing I do regularly is open a new browser window and then tap ALT + D as soon as it appears so I can type an address in and go. This works fine in every other browser. But try it in IE 8. The address bar loses focus, it starts loading a page and wipes out what you’re typing, and otherwise conspires to make sure its not doing what you want. This browser is too slow.

3. While I think it’s nice that you can now optionally move the Refresh and Stop buttons to their proper place next to Back and Forward, the home button is still stuck in the ill-conceived Command Bar. How about just getting rid of that and putting some of those buttons in the same row as Back and Forward and turning most of the other ones off by default? The window is just too busy and non-standard looking. Controls are all over the place. This is something Chrome does well. It’s far less busy than IE.

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