In the interest of broadening my horizons, I promised Microsoft I'd give Internet Explorer 8 a fair shake by trying the browser as my default for a week.
And, boy, am I glad that week is over.
Microsoft's browser rules the roost with about two-thirds of the market, according to Net Applications, which collects a broad set of data on which browsers people use. There's nothing like being built into the dominant operating system for winning a popularity contest. Microsoft takes advantage of that position by building instrumentation into IE that illuminates what a typical Web user is doing.
There's typical, and then there's me. As somebody who spends dozens of hours a week in a Web browser, I'm sorry to say IE 8 is not for me. Although my Web-heavy lifestyle isn't average, I believe the challenges I face on the Web foreshadow what the rest of the world will experience as the Internet inexorably encompasses ever more of our work and personal lives. I prefer browsers that aim toward where the puck is heading, as the tired but useful cliche goes.
IE 8 (download link) catches up to where the puck is today. It's definitely a big improvement over its predecessors, with some commendable features including default support for Web standards. And I do hope people upgrade.
Slooooooow In reality, it was something more mundane that gave me a Pavlovian feeling of dread when I needed to use the browser: its interface is slow.
When it was time for basic interactions such as launching new tabs, switching tabs, closing tabs, commanding IE to open pages, and scrolling through pages, I found myself all too often waiting for the browser to respond to my mouse and keyboard. I did miss some Firefox extensions, even though I'm not a big user of them personally, and I did find Web applications like Gmail and Google Docs a bit slower. But those two gripes paled in comparison to performance.
Here's a sample diary entry from Tuesday, March 24: "31. Accidentally used Firefox for some browsing. What a relief!" I hadn't realized until that moment that I'd been inwardly cringing at IE 8 use.
The sluggishness problem got worse as my Lenovo dual-core laptop's 3GB memory was taxed by running the 10 or 12 programs I need to do my job. Most days, I shut down my Windows XP work machine once a day without thinking much about it. But during IE 8 week, I found myself craving a fresh start by mid-afternoon. IE 8 didn't bear the load as gracefully as rivals, especially as the tabs piled up.
Let me give some credit to Microsoft on the performance front, though. On my home machine, a Windows Vista 64-bit quad-core model with 6GB of memory, IE 8 was much more competitive with Chrome and Firefox, especially when compared with IE 7. … Read more