RealTime IT News

What Users Want in IE Upgrade

Faced with a new kind of browser war, Microsoft has kick-started renewed development around its flagship Internet Explorer (IE), prompting speculation that IE 7.0 could be coming down the pike.

With online security fears pushing users away from IE, the software giant has stepped up its effort to restore users' faith in the browser. It has reassigned a high-profile Longhorn evangelist to the IE team, advertised for browser developers and launched a widespread online offensive to solicit feedback from users.

This increased activity around IE has given rise to chatter that Redmond plans to release a new browser ahead of Longhorn's arrival. The company declined to discuss specifics about its browser release plans outside of the standard response that it was "committed to innovating IE and making it the best Web browsing experience for end users, businesses and developers."

"We do not have anything new to announce at this time, but feedback from our customers and whats important to them will drive features included in future IE releases," a Microsoft spokesperson told internetnews.com.

On its IE Blog and Channel 9 wiki, the company has aggressively encouraged end users and developers to spell out what should be done with the world's most widely used browser. And the feedback has been flowing in. Outside of the security overhaul that's coming with Windows XP Service Pack 2, developers are beating the drum for fixed positioning in CSS and better support for the Portable Networks Graphic (PNG) standard.

CSS gives Web site developers and users more control over how pages are displayed, because designers and users can create style sheets that define how different elements, such as headers and links, appear. These style sheets can then be applied to any Web page.

However, IE does not support CSS fully, which gives headaches to Web developers forced to write code for the majority of users.

Another major issue is IE's lack of full support for PNG.

"PNG is a vastly superior graphics format, and it's well supported by every single browser except IE on Windows," said freelance Web developer Sean Mitchell.

"IE support for alpha blending in PNGs would free up web designers to easily accomplish things they could only dream of before," Mitchell added.

It is not yet clear if full support for CSS and PNG will find a place in a new version, because there is concern that consumer adoption of a browser upgrade isn't driven by fixes made for developers.

"The truth is that consumers aren't going to worry about things like CSS and PNG support," said Robert Iliad, a developer who is participating in the feedback process. "There are still millions of consumers using IE 5.5, so how are you going to get them to use IE 7.0 just because of some obscure thing called CSS?"

Consumers are demanding that IE be fitted with tabbed browsing, a feature that comes embedded with rival Firefox and Opera browsers. Tabbed browsing allows the user to view multiple sites within a single browser window, saving system resources that would otherwise be used by multiple browser launches.

A new version of IE could also be fitted with power-browsing tools to speed up the user experience. For instance, users are demanding better management of pop-up blocking and cookies. End users also want a download manager in the browser and a better way to handle privacy options.

There is also the possibility that Microsoft could streamline support for the RSS syndication format by embedding a feed reader into IE. Microsoft has launched RSS feeds across many of its Web properties and, judging from the feedback, it's a safe bet that the company could add auto-discovery for RSS feeds within the browser.