Why Internet Explorer Has Improved So Rapidly, Lately

If you’re a web developer, you already know that Internet Explorer was absolutely terrible for a long, long time. It was half a decade until IE7 was released, and things got a little better. Two and a half years later, we saw further small improvements in IE8. But with IE9 and the forthcoming IE10, Microsoft has made huge strides forward, and at a yearly release pace! That’s great, but we can’t help but wonder, why now?

Tonight I heard perhaps the most compelling conjecture yet, from the man who taught us JS and the DOM a decade ago and helped us stay sane with those famous compatibility tables, Peter-Paul Koch himself.

A few short years ago, I was at a Microsoft-sponsored developer event, at which a representative was attempting to drum up excitement for their mobile operating system (Windows Mobile 6, I think it was, at the time). I remember being completely amazed that they attempted to brag about their mobile browser, “Internet Explorer Mobile 6,” which was basically created by mashing together the IE6 engine and, unbelievably, the IE8 JavaScript engine. (Some critics referred to it as a “frankenbrowser,” as it had a unique set of bugs difficult to simulate on the desktop.) This was after the iPhone was announced and after people started getting full-Web-capable iPod Touches for Christmas. In sum, Microsoft was pushing a total piece-of-junk browser that was techologically nearly a decade behind Apple’s more capable, faster and more responsive, more reliable, and much less frustrating mobile browser.

I was not impressed.

Even Windows Phone 7 had an awkward “hybrid” broswer based on desktop IE7 and 8.

Tonight I saw @ppk give a brief presentation, and he said good things about IE9 on Windows Phone 7.5 “Mango” and great things about IE10 (as it stands in developer preview).

Then said something that made a lot of sense. He said the reason Internet Explorer has been getting so good, so fast, lately was that Microsoft realized that they needed a good mobile browser to be taken seriously on mobile. And that the improvements to the desktop IE are mostly a happy accidental benefit.

Conjecture? Probably. Oversimplification? Definitely!

But it does fit the IE development history and is in line with the extremely serious way they have reacted to the competition presented by iOS lately.

PPK’s insight would indeed represent an astute move by Microsoft.

It will be much easier to take Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 tablets seriously when they ship with a solid, competitive browser (IE10). Perhaps more importantly, it will be much easier to develop for — after all, it’s the apps that make the phone!

April 6th, 2012
Alan Hogan (@alanhogan_com).  Contact · About