CQuirke’s Long View

Long lead times need long forward planning

IE 8 Beta 2 Impressions

Posted by cquirke on 11 September 2008

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Internet Explorer 8 beta 2 came out just before Google Chrome, and both have several features in common.  However, Chrome is still built on a known-exploitable code base that even Apple had already patched in Safari, so I can’t take that seriously as a safe edge-facing product.  I also don’t like vendors who silently push updates without user control, who who are slow to tell you what their new code does.

Features

Beta 2 feels a lot more new-featured than beta 1, partly because it is, and partly because the new UI is catching up with what is inside the code.  There’s enough difference and improvement over IE 7 to be worth a look, even if you aren’t interested in the beta testing and feedback process – but it is in beta, so take care if testing it your “real” computer.

I enjoyed the safer address bar URL display in beta 1, but there’s more URL-handling goodness in beta 2, especially when it comes to revisiting where you’ve been, keeping track of which tabs were opened from where, and so on.  There’s also the InPrivate mode if you don’t want your history retained.  And I love the new search entry area’s drop-down set of search engine icons, so I can change engine on the fly for each search instead of having to set and change this.

A subtle but significant joy is improvement of Standards vs. IE 7 modes.  In beta 1, one had to exit the entire browser to “change gears”, which seemed odd as each tab runs in its own process, including a mix of tabs in Protected and non-Protected modes.  In beta 2, you can not only mix Standards and IE 7 modes across a tab set, but have the browser remember and automatically apply the correct mode for a given site or domain.

It’s a bit strange to still have no “advanced” download support, i.e. the same ability to resume interrupted downloads that we had in the 386 era’s BBSs transfer protocols.  After all, ftp does as last embrace such things, as well as the ability to download from multiple points in the same file for speed.  Why should we still need tacky and often spyware-riddled add-on tools to do this?

Stability

On stability, it’s a bit of a mixed bag, compared to beta 1.  It now handles the Trend SysClean engine download link a bit better; it still shows the Windows executable code content within the misnamed .COM file as a web page, but no longer crashes and can Save As correctly.  Some other sites that didn’t work in beta 1, such as on-page UI buttons to send comments from some blogs, now work correctly in beta 2.

On the downside, IE still struggles to close when there are many tabs open (typically I have 20-30 open per window at a time), and can fall into a doomed loop of retrying the same page that crashed it.  I’ve also seen the whole browser become terminally unresponsive, and not always when trying to close down multiple tabs.  That can cause a storm of crash dialogs etc. if it tries to recover all the tabs that were open.

When the browser becomes unresponsive, I either see System and IExplore pegged at 50% CPU each, or (more often) > 90% of CPU time correctly in the idle loop, while IE still behaves as if it’s being hogged.

All of this testing has been on XP SP3 with IE8 running in Standards Mode, and set to prompt on active content.  That can lead to multiple tabs stalling on such prompts at the same time, which may bulge resource use or lead to some sort of race condition.  I suppress 3rd-party enhancements via the IE 6 era Tools, Options, Advanced setting, so there shouldn’t be any BHOs or toolbar code.

I’m certainly enjoying beta 2, but wonder whether there will be more builds to test between now and RTM.  IMO, there need to be, if only to pin down and fix the stability issues that remain.

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2 Responses to “IE 8 Beta 2 Impressions”

  1. Dan W. said

    I agree Chris and I do hope that there are more Internet Explorer 8 betas as well and I was kind of forced into using Internet Explorer 8 after I wanted to downgrade to Internet Explorer 6 and ran into *.dll h_ll. Anyway, I am now using Internet Explorer 8 beta 2 and do enjoy it. I hope Microsoft will at the bare minimum have a 3rd beta of Internet Explorer and hopefully even more because the more fully the web browser is tested the better it will be in the end. I am still saddened that a user must use Mozilla Firefox to allow for 256 bit AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) or use Windows Vista which allows for 256 bit AES cipher strength. I have asked Microsoft for this level of security in Windows XP Professional but was turned down flat and so I know that Mozilla Firefox 2.x will remain my browser of choice for now. Sure, Mozilla Firefox 3.x has better security but still lacks some compatibility with extensions so there is no rush for me. I am not usually an early adopter of new technology but I certainly enjoy being a tester of new software that has the chance to be used by millions or even billions of users around the world.

  2. cquirke said

    At some point, we should see regular builds, for testers to assess whether bugs are fixed and ensure new bugs don’t arise. However, these builds will probably not be waved around as publically as IE8b2 and what I expect to be a later and more widespread acceptability-tester.

    That’s not a matter of “secrecy”, just that the resources needed to publicize and distribute a public beta wouldn’t be well-spent by repeating the process for each week’s new build. The folks who will actually test such things will be hooked into Connect, and from there, it should be easy to find and pull the new beta builds.

    The other option is to what MS already did with IE8b2 over IE8b1; deliver the new build as an automatic update.

    Firefox is nice because it’s self-contained and small, so patching just becomes a matter of replacing the whole thing. However, this nearly always breaks extensions, leading to prompts to “look for new versions” that could be used to keep malware current and ahead of av detection. Personally, I hate plugins and extensions, so I’m happy to slough them off :-)

    IEb2’s still a bit wobbly, and in ways that are different to IEb1 (i.e. some old bugs fixed, some new bug patterns added) – so we definitely need some more builds before RC or RTM status.

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