Microsoft Stays Conservative On Web Standards In IE9-To-IE10 Shift

Microsoft launched Internet Explorer 10 for Windows 7 on Tuesday, providing a substantial speed increase over Internet Explorer 9 as well as more support for modern Web standards. But Microsoft added that it will continue its conservative approach to supporting Web standards - no doubt disappointing some in the Web community.

For those Windows 7 users with Windows Update turned on, IE 9 on Windows 7 will begin self-upgrading around the world, Microsoft said, within the 95 different languages supported by the Microsoft browser. To help mark the occasion, Microsoft launched ExploreTouch.ie, where users can explore singer Blake Lewis' song, "Your Touch." The site is designed to showcase the use of touch, IE10 and Windows 8, Microsoft said.

Better, Faster, Stronger

IE10 is designed to improve performance, privacy and compatibility compared to IE9. Specifically, Microsoft claimed that IE10 users would load websites 20% faster than in IE9 - giving the new browser what company executives characterized as market-leading real-world site performance. In tests of eight common browsing tasks by independent researchers at Principled Technologies, IE10 was up to 63% faster than Chrome on Android and Safari on iOS, the firm found, and Microsoft also cited real-world tests of site performance that found IE10 came out on top. (Of course, it always makes sense to take browser makers' speed claims with a bit of salt.) 

The performance enhancements could be a factor helping IE climb to more than 55.14% share of browser usage, as measured by Net Applications, its highest share ever among desktop browsers. (At the beginning of February, NetApps said that 2.3% of desktop users used Windows 8, which ships with its own version of IE10.)

From a privacy standpoint, Microsoft has left a feature called Do Not Track on by default, asking websites not to track IE10 users. Advertisers have howled in protest at this feature, but IE10 also includes Tracking Protection, which actively blocks personal information from being transferred. (Still, Australia has expressed concerns about Microsoft's suggested approach to privacy and data collection, wondering if incidental data provided by routine transactions could be used without consent to build a user profile.)

Slow And Steady On Web Standards

Microsoft has long taken a more deliberate approach toward implementing Web standards than other browser vendors, which has earned the company some criticism - perhaps due to the legacy of browsers like IE6, whose insecurity and lack of standards support has collected widespread scorn, and a place in PC World's list of the 25 worst tech products, among others. (Microsoft later created IE6countdown, a concerted effort to kill off IE6; today, just 0.2% of U.S. users still rely on it, the site claims. It has a much higher market share in some overseas markets.)

Some critics haven't given up the fight. "We are filing this complaint on behalf of all consumers who are tired of having a monopolist make choices for them," said Jon von Tetzchner, chief executive of Opera, which asked the EU to prevent Microsoft from bundling Internet Explorer with Windows. "In addition to promoting the free choice of individual consumers, we are a champion of open Web standards and cross-platform innovation. We cannot rest until we've brought fair and equitable options to consumers worldwide."

That was in 2007, however. Criticism has tapered off in recent years, although Microsoft has fallen on its sword a time or two:

"The way we approach this is from the standpoint of what developers want, within the platform," said Rob Mauceri, Microsoft's group program manager for Internet Explorer. "When there are standards being developed with the W3C [World Wide Web Consortium], often time we are directly involved with those standards. We work with others in the community to define and then implement those standards, as they're ready and mature enough to implement, and as developers are actually interested in them."

In IE10 Microsoft implemented 30 new standards, including HTML5, CSS3 and Web applications, Mauceri said. IE10 adds new rich visual effects to the page with shadows, 3D transforms, CSS3 gradients, sophisticated page layouts with CSS3 grids, flexbox and multicolumn support. Plus, there are enhancements to the Web programming model like LocalDB, per-application caching, WebSockets, Web workers and more.

"These are just a few examples, but they really cut across things... developers look for as they're building new experiences on the Web," Mauceri said.

Leading From Behind?

"There are two aspects of what Rob called out: what developers want, and what developers are coding to," said Ryan Gavin, the general manager for IE within Microsoft. "Is the spec ready for the browser? And then there's the thing that you lose when you go to an HTML5test.com that generates a somewhat arbitrary score and tries to put the thing down into a numerical value. In some cases we have a point of view unlike some of the other browser vendors: implementing a spec too early actually causes developers a lot of pain."

"And so it's really not a race to throw as much crap as you can into the browser," Gavin added. "If you implement a spec too early and it changes, as these things do, sometimes on a weekly basis, the developer ends up writing and rewriting and writing their site, and testing it, because they're always in break-fix mode, because that spec is always evolving."

Microsoft tries to add support for a standard when it's "site-ready": defined as a state that when developer writes to a spec, there's a high degree of confidence that it's going to work and persist over time, Gavin said.

Commercial Blitz

Microsoft plans to launch a commercial blitz around the new IE10 platform, made by the same agency that developed the "Beauty of the Web" spot and the Lewis song. The new commercial will go live on Tuesday, pushing - naturally - the aspect of touch. (Gavin took the high road when asked about the touch-enabled Chromebook Pixel, applauding Google for following Microsoft's lead.)

Most would agree that the "Beauty of the Web" spot does an excellent job of showcasing Internet Explorer, and the new commercial goes a step further, adding touch to the equation. As Microsoft moves forward, its challenge is to persuade third-party developers to continue making the Web beautiful, too.