Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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IE 7

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If you are a bit into web design – and take that term as something referring to web standards rather than producing files whose names end in ‘.htm’ with Fron Page… – you’ll know that Internet Explorer 6 is an evil curse that the richest software company in the world unleashed on their users and all web designers many years ago.

Internet Explorer 6 ist just a terribly bad piece of software and always has been. And Internet Explorer 5 for the Mac proved that this wasn’t because Microsoft couldn’t find or afford reasonably good and insightful programmers. My old strategy of dealing with the IE 6 problem was to just ignore it. If an IE 6 user couldn’t see the earthlingsoft pages or my personal pages in their full beauty, I’d just chuckle and think that I could do quite well without those clueless gits reading the nonsense I wrote.

Of course that stance had to change when I started helping out with the designs for Sandvox. They are selling an application to create web pages there and of course the people buying it will expect their home pages and photo galleries to look well on aunt Sally’s Windows box. And a lot of time and nerves were spent on trying to fool Internet Explorer on Windows to make look sites look reasonably similar.

In places compromises had to be made because transparent PNGs cannot be used (from CSS at least) in IE 6. In other places massive repositioning and workarounds were needed to adjust to IE’s strange interpretation of relative and absolute positioning, it’s interesting ways of handling padding and margins and the ever mysterious point of having or not having ‘layout’. After such sessions, I’d go to bed and have nightmares about concocted constructs with loads of superfluous asterisks and slashes in them all serving the need to use some IE related ‘hack’ or another.

IE 7 which is said to make its way to the unwashed masses’ computers these days was said to put an end to that agony. It sounded like the continuing success of Firefox made Microsoft realise that finally they have to put some effort in their web browser if they want to maintain their monopoly. Which sounded great to me. And the first reports about IE 7 were promising. Finally there was support for transparency in PNG files and there was a significantly better support of web standards.

And Microsoft were confident enough about their new version to be good at HTML and not ridden by IE 6’s bugs that they also removed the bugs which allowed the CSS hacks for adding IE specific statements to work. A good move, I thought – until I actually tried IE 7. Trying it revealed that, yes, many things have been improved. But quite a number of things haven’t. Particularly the issue about relative and absolute positioning.

And that was bad. With a brand new browser there were no ‘hacks’ known to fix problems (yeah I know about those ‘conditional commets’ which many people pimp, but they require you to change the HTML which is useless if you are working at the CSS level) and it took a while for the ’*:first-child+html div’ is the new ‘* html div’ motto to make its way round. In a way it’s absurd: some of the corrections you had for IE 6 are still needed by IE 7 but IE 7 will ignore them by default. So you have to pimp you style sheet some more duplicating those exact statements you used for IE 6 with the new ‘hack’ to also fix things for IE 7. It seems that you can’t even write them in a single statement as the complicated nature of the IE 7 hack seems to make IE 6 ignore it then.

Ah, that sucks. Now it’s perfectly possible to have a style sheet which needs ‘adjustments’ for display in four different versions of Internet Explorer. That just makes everbody’s life more difficult. If Microsoft wanted to do things ‘right’ they should have made IE 7 compatible with the current best-of-crop browser engine (Mozilla I guess). All the way down to the nitty gritty details. Because with their new update all we get is the need of having to check designs with yet another broken browser and using yet another hack to serve some corrections to that browser. And as many people will keep using IE 6 for years, the workarounds for that version will still be with us for years anyway. So it’s hard to see an improvement from the web designer’s point of view.

And what do people say about IE 7’s user interface? No menu bar? Strangely placed icons and reload buttons? An odd tabbing concept? Hard to understand preferences (I guess that’s just par for Windows…)? At least I needed my flatmate’s help to figure out how to turn off the browser cache. Who would have thought it’s listed as ‘Browsing History’.

But hey: transparent PNGs!

October 31, 2006, 17:59

Tagged as software.

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