19 June 2009

Even When Microsoft Gets It Right, They Still Get It Wrong


Microsoft Gives you the Straight-up


Of course, I'm talking about this page, Microsoft's "Get the Facts" page about IE8. Go ahead and read it if you'd like.

Every now and then Microsoft will come out with one of these pages when it's releasing something new -- it's an opportunity for Microsoft to show the strengths and weaknesses against their competitors' products. However, sometimes Microsoft squanders that chance by either exaggerating greatly, flat-out lying, or just honestly getting their facts wrong.

There was a famous example of one of these pages that came out a year or so ago, in which Microsoft compared their new Windows Server software to Linux and tried to show how Windows Server was actually cheaper (no, really, don't laugh -- that's what they tried to do).

It was taken down a while afterwards, after a little bit of protest against their "profiling" section -- this was a section of their Linux-comparison page where they profile various Linux user "types" and how you should convince them of Windows Server's superiority. My favorite was the "open-source zealot" -- Microsoft would advise you not to debate "philosophically" against the zealot. (I'm guessing it was partly because it's an argument they know they can't win, and partly because debating with those people can sometimes be a bit trying, even if you agree with them.)

About Internet Explorer 8

I like IE8. There, I said it.

There's many in the web design community that'll argue with that, but honestly -- I've been forced to design in IE6 for years now (nearly a decade?), and starting development in IE8 is like finally getting reassigned to a new seat in a class where you've been forced to sit next to the stinky kid who never bathes. It's that refreshing to me.

No, it's not the greatest web browser; yes, it's still got a long way to go with certain technologies that have been around for years and which Microsoft still just refuses to support (like SVG). But compared to IE6, it's like IE8 exists in a whole other universe. (I'm not really going to cover IE7 -- it's really just a stepping stone between IE6 and IE8, as far as I'm concerned, and my organization never even upgraded to it, anyway).

It's got tabs. It isolates each tab into a separate OS thread, where if one web page crashes, it doesn't take down your entire browser -- this is a feature even Firefox doesn't have. Its built-in development tools (though an obvious copy of Firebug) are great to work with, including something I've been dying to have in IE for years: a built-in JavaScript debugger.

That being said, it's still got its faults.

Microsoft Comparing IE Against Other Browsers

Honestly, Microsoft should just stop doing it -- we all have to design for IE, whether we want to or not. There's no need to "sell" IE. To those in the know, when they do something like this, they're bound to piss the web-development community off, no matter what.

What I'll do is break down each comparison with other browsers (Chrome and Firefox) that Microsoft makes, and try to give my own personal opinion of where Microsoft stands. And considering Firefox 3.5 is going to be out in a month or so, I'm going to use it for my own personal comparisons -- if I recall, Microsoft did the same thing with the IE8 RC a while back when they claimed IE8 as being the "fastest" web browser, too.

  • "Security"

Microsoft's Take: Winner? IE.

"Internet Explorer 8 takes the cake with better phishing and malware protection, as well as protection from emerging threats."

Reality: Winner? None as far as I'm concerned.

All browsers have problems with security -- be it XSS attacks or (in Microsoft's case) too much integration with the host operating system. I don't know why MS thinks IE is superior for having "phishing protection," or checking to see if an URL is being spoofed -- all browsers have that today. And "protection from emerging threats" -- what does that even mean? For all we know, by "emerging threats" MS could be thinking of Google Chrome, for goodness sake.

If you ask me, all browsers are either equally safe or equally unsafe, whatever way you want to look at it.

  • "Privacy"

Microsoft's Take: Winner? IE

"InPrivate Browsing and InPrivate Filtering help Internet Explorer 8 claim privacy victory."

Reality: Winner? All.

If you're looking for privacy, all browsers have got your back today. Sorry, MS -- Google Chrome has had "incognito" mode for a while now, and Firefox 3.5 just got their private browsing mode, as well. What I can see of Microsoft's "InPrivate Filtering" sounds pretty neat, though it sounds a lot like the Firefox "NoScript" extension.

  • "Ease of Use"

Microsoft's Take: Winner? IE

"Features like Accelerators, Web Slices and Visual Search Suggestions make Internet Explorer 8 easiest to use. "

Reality: Winner? Chrome

I'm sure those features make IE8 easier to use, but no one's ever going to use them. Come on, let's be serious. IE is your grandparents' browser -- do you think they're going to take advantage of "Web Slices" and "Accelerators?" Do you think they're ever even going to know they exist? I still find users who don't even know that bookmarks/favorites can be grouped into folders. (I'm sure we've all sat there helping someone on a computer at one time or another, as they've sat there and scrolled for minutes through their list of bookmarks, looking for a particular one.)

On the other hand, Chrome wins the "ease of use" category for it's extremely simplistic UI alone, in my opinion. Even though I don't think it's revolutionary, it's still refreshingly uncluttered.

  • "Web Standards"

Microsoft's Take: Winner? All

"It's a tie. Internet Explorer 8 passes more of the World Wide Web Consortium's CSS 2.1 test cases than any other browser, but Firefox 3 has more support for some evolving standards."

Reality: Winner? All.

They're actually right about this one. Microsoft's made some great leaps to try and standardize the way programming in their browser should work -- there's even some areas in which Microsoft now surpasses other browsers. Seriously, I never thought I'd see the day. (I was even privy to one conversation on the Internet where a group was complaining about IE using the W3C standard for a certain thing instead of using "what's commonly used." You've got to be kidding me. I almost felt sorry for Microsoft -- they can't win for losing.)

And I'm going to wag my finger at the WebKit world here (browsers like Chrome and Safari). Yes, some of the unique extensions in JavaScript and CSS you're making are neat, but they're still proprietary and go against standards! You're starting to do the same thing we've been complaining about Microsoft doing for years!

  • "Developer Tools"

Microsoft's Take: Winner? IE

"Of course Internet Explorer 8 wins this one. There's no need to install tools separately, and it offers better features like JavaScript profiling."

Reality: Winner? (Tentatively) IE

Chrome's a close second with the WebKit Inspector tool, but IE's speaking truth, here. Now, the IE8 tools are nothing you can't get with Firefox+Firebug (who honestly uses Firefox for web development without Firebug?), but if you're talking about true "built-in" web development tools, IE's got them.

  • "Reliability"

Microsoft's Take: Winner? IE

"Only Internet Explorer 8 has both tab isolation and crash recovery features; Firefox and Chrome have one or the other."

Reality: Winner? (Tentatively) IE

They've got a point here, too. I've always spoken highly of IE8's tab isolation, even if Chrome has the exact same thing (across multiple operating systems, too). And if IE8 can recover all your tabs after a full browser crash (like Firefox has always been able to), then they've got the best of both worlds.

However, in my months of using Chrome, I have to admit I've never had it crash even once... :P

  • "Customizability"

Microsoft's Take: Winner? All

"Sure, Firefox may win in sheer number of add-ons, but many of the customizations you'd want to download for Firefox are already a part of Internet Explorer 8 – right out of the box."

Reality: Winner? Firefox

This is the bullet point I had the most problem with -- Microsoft mangled the hell out of it.

Number one, Chrome doesn't really have customization. You don't change the theme of it -- you can't add extensions (for now). So, Microsoft didn't even need to include them as a winner in this point.

And Microsoft, just because you have some nice features doesn't mean you're more customizable than Firefox. If that's the case, I could've claimed that Firefox was your equal in Developer Tools because you can easily download Firebug. You can't have it both ways.

This bullet point wasn't about "nice features," it was about customizability. And in that case, Firefox wins hands-down, both because of the existing size of the extension base, and the ease at which you can make those extensions.

  • "Compatibility"

Microsoft's Take: Winner? IE

"Internet Explorer 8 is more compatible with more sites on the Internet than any other browser. "

Reality: Winner? Unnecessary?

Eh, what? Is this even a problem today? I've been using Firefox for about 5 years now, and I can't remember the last time I had to open up Internet Explorer to get a site to "work." Especially now with IE8 (since Microsoft has finally made it work more like other browsers), this shouldn't even be an issue.

The only reason why Internet Explorer would "work better" with a website is if that website was specifically using features that only work in IE, which is just wrong to begin with.

  • "Manageability"

Microsoft's Take: Winner? IE

"Neither Firefox nor Chrome provide guidance or enterprise tools. That's just not nice."

Reality: Winner? IE, as far as I know.

Yeah, believe it or not, IE works better when used in "enterprise" level Microsoft shops. Imagine that. I'm not a SysAdmin, so what do I care? :P

(Okay, okay, I'm joking -- as far as I know, Firefox or Chrome can't be managed and installed across large-scale offices using many Windows installations. Honestly, though, this is only a problem in the business world, and only if you're locked into using Microsoft Windows for some reason.)

  • "Performance"

Microsoft's Take: Winner? All

"Knowing the top speed of a car doesn't tell you how fast you can drive in rush hour. To actually see the difference in page loads between all three browsers, you need slow-motion video. This one’s also a tie."

Reality: Winner? Chrome

This is a contentious point -- Microsoft's been claiming for a little while now that their browser is at least as fast as other browsers when it comes to "page loads." Yeah, about that:

How much time do you think you spend "loading" a web page compared to actually using it? Yeah, that's what I thought -- it's not even close. This is like Microsoft saying that their "car" (to use their analogy) is faster because it "starts up quicker."

Sorry, Microsoft -- Chrome wins this thing, hands down. Web pages are quickly becoming like mini-applications (thanks to Ajax) -- you load up a web page, and then you stay in that web page doing everything you need to do. The page's elements change around you, and sophisticated JavaScript routines create a seamless experience, free of page loads.

Chrome's JavaScript engine has been consistently tested to be about the fastest there is (only behind Safari 4, which I didn't test here because I don't have experience with it) -- Firefox 3.5's new JavaScript engine is leaps and bounds faster than Firefox 3.

IE8, however, despite all the improvements they've made to it, is still so far behind it's not even funny.


Conclusion

That about wraps it up. IE8's not a bad browser, and Microsoft coulda been all cool about it and said something like, "we know we've farked up in the past, but here's some ways we've made our browser better," but instead they had to pull out the ol' "WE ARE MICROSOFT RESISTANCE IS FUTILE" line.

Though, arguably, they've toned that down from the way they used to be, just a bit.

2 comments:

  1. Anonymous10:55 AM

    Wondering why Opera is completely missing from the list?!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Probably just because of its market share. It's not a bad browser -- I would've included it, but I don't have enough experience to make judgements on it.

    ReplyDelete