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About the Blog

The thoughts and theories of a guy who basically should have gone to bed hours ago.

I know, I know - what's the point? But look at it this way - I stayed up late writing it, but you're reading it...

Let's call ourselves even & move on, OK?


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Friday, November 24, 2006

ISBS Review: Internet Explorer 7


That automatic updating feature of Windows XP kicked in the other day with an "update ready to be installed." As has been my policy since buying this PC, I said yes.


Side note: I've noticed over the years that the people who complain the loudest about Windows crashing all the time are precisely the people who frequently install third party hacks, mess with the registry, or ignore recommended patches/fixes/upgrades, all because they "know what they're doing." The version of Windows running on my machine has been handled exactly as Microsoft has recommended I handle it, and it's fit as a fiddle. I'm not saying OS's shouldn't be able to handle these kinds of people, just that Windows performs much better when you're a "good user." Now, back to our story)

This particular update was an upgrade for Internet Explorer to the newly released IE 7.0. I had read about the new features and always figured I'd get around to downloading it, but never really had the time. It seems my OS took it upon itself to download it for me while I was sleeping/working, so what the heck - one click and I was on my way. If Firefox or Safari could offer this feature, I'd have all three on my desktop for sure. As it stands, we're witnessing the true power of the Microsoft monopoly at work here, and quite frankly, I'm fine with it. All it means is that competitors have to make me care more than the incumbent does, which is basically how every other product in the world works.

Anyway, I haven't played around a lot with all the features of IE 7.0, but here are my first impressions:

1) Tabs are cool
And yes, I know they've been around a while and Microsoft is only stealing the good ideas of others & taking all the credit, but I'm glad they're here. The Quick Tabs tab is pretty cool as well - it gives you a thumbnail of each of the open tabs, from which you can click to go to that tab, or click the "X" to close it. I just know that's going to come in useful as time goes on. Also useful and vastly under-reported: Outlook is very well integrated into tabbed browsing. If you're reading an e-mail with multiple links in it, and you click on each one, they don't open in separate browsers, or even "overwrite" themselves in the same tab. They open in multiple tabs of a new browser session, so that all of your related web pages are available in close proximity. It's a small thing, but it's a nice touch.

2) ClearType is also cool
I think this has been around for a while, but it automatically installed with IE7. Basically, it improves the readability of the Windows fonts, especially when they're bold, italics, etc. It's still not as smooth looking as the Mac experience, but it's a whole lot closer than it used to be. My only small complaint here is that in order to have my web pages "ClearTyped," I have to have my Windows desktop the same way. The background image I have on my desktop (a picture my kids drew for me a while back), makes the filenames on the desktop show up in a white-on-white scenario, and ClearType makes that harder to read. It's a small complaint, and one caused predominantly by me & fairly easy to fix, but heck - it's my review, so I get to complain, OK?

3) Finally, an integrated RSS reader
I know, I know - another idea stolen from other, superior browsers. Fine, whatever. It's kind of cool here. I tried a standalone RSS browser once, but gave up right away because a) who wants to run a separate app, and b) I don't always check my blogs from the same machine (sometimes from home, sometimes from work, sometimes from the laptop). My RSS reader of choice since then has been my "My Yahoo!" page, which has a very cool interface and is accessible from any machine. My only complaint with it was that the feeds update on some weird schedule that I haven't been able to figure out yet, so I can't trust them when they say there have been no updates, which means I have to click into each blog separately anyway. Once I'm doing that, what's the point of the RSS reader? IE7's RSS feed has a "Refresh All" command, that bolds the names of the feeds that have new content, and allows me to see how many new entries there are with a rollover. It's a nice, compact UI that does exactly what I need. Good job, folks...

4) Security seems better
The tabs turn colors based on security risk (grey for "OK", yellow for "suspect", red for "phishing site", etc.). I honestly haven't played with this too much, because I don't need to visit invasive sites just to test out the browser, but the approach seems sound. My complaint in this area is on the handling of files on the hard drive. My homepage has been a file on my hard drive for years (basically a bookmark file on steroids - a page with lots of links). IE7's default is to apply the highest form of security to these files, on the assumption that if an evil-doer gets a file onto your hard drive, they'll be able to stop it from doing any damage. Kind of a "last line of defense" thing. As a result, each time I went to my homepage, I got a warning which said "This page is not allowed to run scripts or ActiveX objects." I could ignore the warning if I weren't so obsessive-compulsive about these things, so I found myself right-clicking on the warning and choosing "Allow Blocked Content" each & every time I went to my homepage. Finally, I changed the setting to allow the scripts & objects to run off the hard drive, and the problem went away. What I really want is for the browser to be smart enough to know that the hard drive file contains no scripts or ActiveX, and not display the message. That way, I'd be perfectly happy leaving the security at its highest setting.

5) Search is no big deal
A lot of noise was made before the product was released about how Google search is defaulted on the toolbar in the upper right corner of the app. In response, Microsoft put a dropdown arrow on the search button, which gives you two additional options: "Find more providers" and "Change Search Defaults." This seems to have placated the monopoly gods for now. My opinion? Meh. I have the Google toolbar installed right below it, and I suspect that if I were a rabid Yahoo or MSN fan, I'd download their toolbar the same way, so I'd happily shut off the search box entirely if I could find an easy way to do it. Either way, it's not getting in my way or pushing a particular provider on me in any meaningful way.

6) They need to fix the focus changing method
The browser is divided into sections (menus, toolbars, tabs, and web pages). I know this because when you click in each section, the first click puts that section in focus, and the second click takes the action you want. So, if I'm browsing a web page, and want to click my "Home" button, the first click "lights up" the toolbar, and I have to click again to actually get Home. I'm sure I'll get used to this very quickly, but I shouldn't have to. It's a simple fix, and I'm sure enough people will complain that they'll get around to fixing it soon enough.

7) Browsing is faster, but loading the browser is slower.
Each of the above mentioned sections seem to start up one at a time. When I open the browser, I first get a web page view with only the back/forward buttons and the address box. Then, the tabs appear, followed by the toolbars, and finally, the menu. All of this happens in rapid succession, but it's still obvious that it's running some routine each time it loads to check my settings & configure my UI appropriately. That kind of thing should be figured out before the window opens, and then the whole thing should "POP" together. Again, a minor complaint, but enough that I noticed it right away.

8) My mouse's scrollwheel doesn't seem to work right
When I scroll with the mouse's scrollwheel, the page keeps scrolling long after I stop. And if scroll in two directions (e.g., up and then down), the page does a rather entertaining little dance before it finally calms down and gives me back control. I tried futzing with the Control Panel "Mouse" section, but nothing I do seems to work. I have a Logitech MouseMan Wheel mouse (model #M-CW47). Any chance anyone out there has a solution to this? I know, I have to spend some time with Google...

9) The placement of the Windows menus are annoying
The toolbars in IE7 are configurable, just like any other Microsoft app. But the back/forward buttons and the address bar, along with Refresh, Stop, and Search, are pegged to the top line. That means the menus (File, Edit, View, etc.) can only go as high as second line, with the various toolbars and tabs below that. Having the menus in the middle doesn't look/feel right. Again, I'll get used to it, but I shouldn't have to. Menus should be on the top, just below the window's title. And golf balls, dishes and underwear should all be white. Yes, I'm an old-fashioned codger. So shoot me, why dontcha?

That's about all right now from the top of my head. I still want to play around a bit. There are lots of new features (particularly around the tabs: the ability to bookmark a set of tabs and then open them all with one click, the ability to close groups of tabs with one click, the ability to set a link to default to a new tab, etc.) that I have just started discovering, or have read about but haven't found yet. So I'm sure, like any new toy, there will be pleasant & unpleasant surprises. I'll let you know if any are of note.

posted by Brian at 12:52 AM


8 Comments:

  • I recently upgraded my browser to IE 7 and I am having the same problem with my mouse's scrollwheel.It just keeps scrolling even after a single turn.I tried Googling but to no avail.Any help?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:14 PM, December 07, 2006  


  • Anonymous,

    I, too, have been frustrated by the lack of solutions from Google searches.

    Best I can figure out, it has something to do with this new "horizontal scrolling" feature, that's supposed to allow you to scroll both up/down and left/right when you zoom in on the screen. That feature must be capturing the "scroll" event, and doing something funky with it.

    That said, I can't even get the horizontal scrolling to work, and I don't see any way to turn it off.

    At this point, I'm just grudgingly using the scrollbar until the Internet does it's thing, and enough people complain to Microsoft that they issue a patch...

    Please post here if you find anything more substantial. Thanks!

    By Blogger Brian, at 2:12 AM, December 08, 2006  


  • IE7/Tools/Internet Options/Advanced/Browsing/

    Uncheck "Use smooth scrolling"

    Fixed scrolling problems for me.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:54 PM, December 14, 2006  


  • Anonymous,

    Thanks for the tip. I just tried it, and while it made it better, it's still not perfect.

    Each click of the scroll wheel seems to be moving the screen 5 lines. With Smooth Scrolling turned off, though, now when I stop, it only goes four extra lines, rather than accumulating them all & scrolling slowly to the bottom.

    This part of the problem may be a setting on my mouse (I remember it asking how many lines the scroll wheel should scroll, so I bet that setting is off). My mouse driver software is screwed up, so I can't test it now, but I'll reinstall the mouse software one of these days & see if I can complete the fix.

    In any case, thanks again for the idea...

    By Blogger Brian, at 1:13 AM, December 15, 2006  


  • I had the same problem (Logitech Cordless MouseMan Wheel M-RK53) and fixed it by telling the mouse to use MS Office compatible scroll only and to Scroll in active window only. This was in the "Mouse Properties" program. Who knows what that will do to other programs...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:29 AM, December 15, 2006  


  • Thanks, Anonymous Dec 15 poster! Your tip fixed my scrolling issue as well; it was driving us up the wall.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:18 PM, January 01, 2007  


  • I tried the MS compatible mouse only and it did not work. I am still dealing with this anoying issue.
    Sam in Colorado

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:24 AM, January 05, 2007  


  • Seems like it's still hit & miss. Eventually, Microsoft will get around to patching this, I'm sure.

    Meanwhile, I still haven't had time to reinstall my mouse drivers & try the MS-compatible thing. I'll shoot for it this weekend & post back here with the results.

    By Blogger Brian, at 1:46 PM, January 05, 2007  


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