Problems with Internet Explorer: A review reconsidered

Anytime you give product a fantastic thumbs up, as I did with Internet Explorer 5.0, there are bound to be a few bruised readers who acquire the product only to discover that it's not all that it's cracked up to be. So was the case with IE 5.0. Though most of the problems I've seen have been related to horrific download times, a few people have complained about specific features (or lack thereof) in the software, and while I can agree or disagree with the complaints, it wasn't until a note from reader Bruce McKee that I began to see a trend.

When I wrote my review of IE 5.0, I had three "issues" that I wanted to cover. The worst one made it into the review. This is the "new window" bug, whose description I originally accompanied with a scathing attack on the IE 5.0 programmers, who ignored my pleas when I complained again and again about the problem. In fact, I was given an ultimatum by the beta coordinator at one point, that I would be kicked off the beta if I didn't stop complaining. When the review appeared (after IE 5.0 went Gold), I was indeed removed quietly from the beta. However, since then, I've gotten email after email from readers complaining about this very bug.

If you find this bug infuriating as I do, please write [email protected] and tell them it's a problem. If enough people complain, they will fix it.

Anyway, Bruce also had two other problems with IE 5.0 and, not coincidentally, these problems were also on my original "issues" list when I wrote my review. The first problem occurs when you attempt to load a Web page and it gives you that "friendly" new "page is not available" error. But then you try to reload the page and it works fine on the second or third attempt. I have no idea why this happens; It's sporadic and hard to track.

The second problem is even more insidious: You type in a URL, say something bogus like IE 5.0 whirs for a bit, attempting to load the page, and then it throws up the "page not found" error message. But it also replaces the URL you typed with "res://shdoclc.dll/dnserror.htm". This is infuriating, because most of the time you make a typing mistake like this, you're only off by one letter. But when IE 5.0 replaces the text you type with this ridiculous string of garbage, you are forced to retype the whole URL again. There is a workaround: This bug only surfaces when you do not type "http://" at the beginning of the URL. If you do type this, your URL will not be overwritten with the garbage string.

So, why didn't I mention this in my review?

During the IE 5.0 beta, I was using a workstation on my home network that was connected to the Internet through a proxy server. With the proxy, I often see these sorts of problems, so I figured it was related to that. When I wrote the review, however, I was unable to reproduce the first bug at all on a machine that had a direct cable modem connection to the Internet. And with the second bug, I wasn't yet aware of the "http://" issue: I must have been adding that to bogus URLs as I tested and I just figured they had fixed it in the final release. I never saw the garbage string problem while writing the review.

But it's there. Oh yes.

So, there are now three issues that I consider problematic with IE 5.0. I still strongly recommend downloading and installing the browser, however, as it is still a quantum improvement over previous releases. On the other hand, you may want to wait for the inevitable first service pack, as Bruce suggests. If you feel like having a positive impact on this release, I do ask again that you write [email protected] and complain about these problems. They are real bugs and at least one of them was routinely ignored during the lengthy IE 5.0 beta cycle. I'm currently working to see that they get fixed before the release of Windows 2000, but I can only do so much by myself.

Thanks to Bruce McKee and everyone else that wrote in about IE 5.0. I will be adding these bugs to the appropriate section of the IE 5.0 review later this week.


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