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Microsoft promises 'lessons learned' on IE 8 download day

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Analysis It took nearly two years for the functionally inferior Internet Explorer 6 to finally be surpassed by the better IE 7 in terms of regular daily use.

Microsoft blamed that delay on its own failure to explain the benefits of faster speed, improved usability and better security against phishing in IE 7 - not people's lack of interest in IE. It didn't help there was a five-year gap between browsers.

Three years after IE 7, Microsoft reassured us things will be different this time with IE 8, expected at Mix 09 today.

Amy Barzdukas, Microsoft senior director of product management, said the company's learned its lesson. There's been outreach on MSDN, white papers on guidance, and aggressive blogging. The latter we can certainly vouch for.

IE 8, like IE 7, promises more than its predecessor. The security focus has shifted from phishing to malware, with a constantly updated list of malware sites to protect the user. Funky features include Web Slices - the ability for users to bookmark just a part of a web page - and Accelerators to replace the need for cutting and pasting URLs into new tabs.

Yet, by Microsoft's own tacit admission the outreach is not working.

Those who should be adopting IE are not listening to Microsoft's outreach. Major organizations like the BBC, CNN and Facebook are not supporting IE 8, while anecdotal evidence suggests those sites that purportedly do work with IE 8 - sites such as Yahoo Mail - hit hidden problems in viewing of pages or when it comes to printing.

Developers, the litmus of early adoption, are using Firefox and are excited by Chrome and even Apple's Safari thanks to the ever-sexy iPhone.

It could be so different.

All sites need do - according to Microsoft at least - is complete the relatively simply task of inserting a tag in their code in order to render pages in IE 8's default standards mode - the new, web-standards compatible version of IE rendering. Sites that don't insert the tag won't render properly, and will be viewed in IE's non-standards "compatible view" mode.

But sites aren't doing this.

Barzudukas blamed the fact over-worked web developers have been putting off the move because there's been no deadline. "People tend to tackle things that are urgent," she said.

However, there've been some major gaffs coupled with uncertainties around the browser that will have deterred developers from moving to IE 8. This include problems that Microsoft assumed were faults inherent in web sites but that turned out to be bugs in IE 8 that were fixed in the Release Candidate, released January.

Another factor putting sites off will be the breadth of the competition.

Also, the jury is out on features like Web Slices and Accelerators. One Microsoft partner who wished to remain anonymous told us IE 8 has too many surfaces compared to Firefox, making it harder to use and navigate.

And, there will be uncertainty over Microsoft's commitment to these new features. Say you build add-ons to optimize Web Slices, as eBay has, and then Microsoft kills them in a future release - that leaves your business and development plans hanging. No-one's going to bet on that.

It wouldn't be the first time Microsoft's pulled features after an initial big play or tinkered with a roadmap to kill a feature that people had committed to. Look at Ultimate Extras in Windows Vista and adCenter analytics.

Microsoft, meanwhile, has admitted it's harder building add-ons for IE than Firefox - and that's according to an IE evangelist, who clearly didn't understand what his job entailed.

Finally, there's a question over just how simple the move to IE 8 really is. Barzudukas claimed that overall domains such as the BBC and its own Microsoft.com do work with IE 8, it's just individual pages that are failing to work properly. A page that doesn't render or print properly, though, translates as a site that's broken when it comes to the demanding world of the web and people won't have time for it. It would be hard to imagine Microsoft being so tolerant if it came to judging a rival's browser performance.

Expect more outreach from Microsoft in the coming months to make up for the miscommunications of IE 7. So far, we've seen claims IE 8 is faster than rival browsers. Microsoft will today tout some research it paid NSS Labs to produce that claims IE 8 is more secure than Firefox, Chrome, Safari and Opera because of its list of malware sites.

Just don't expect more communication to result in improved adoption. ®

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