This Week In Tech

posted 28 July 2006

So about a month ago, Mikey, M and I made a little agreement: every week, we would post a little blog about what had happened that week in our particular areas of expertise: his Ukrainian politics, M's British politics, mine IT -- or rather, since IT is a pretty gigantic field, the web specifically. We've all been rather rubbish at actually following through on this, but here is my attempt -- it's quick and bitty, to match your appalling attention span.

IE7: for me

In case you've not heard, Microsoft is bringing out Internet Explorer 7. This is big news if you're a web developer for two reasons: the first is that IE7 fixes a lot of the worst bugs of IE6 -- meaning the scope of things you will be able to develop reliably across the two major browsers (Firefox is running at 20% market share across Europe, 40% in Germany) will suddenly be a lot bigger, which is a great news.

The second reason is that it will break every web page that currently uses Flash -- which is an awful lot of pages -- in a rather annoying way: all flash controls now need to be "clicked to activate" (something you may have already started seeing if you run Windows XP SP2). This is the result of Microsoft losing a lawsuit against Eolas, who had a patent on "things that work in a web page without you clicking on them" (patents are stupid. See?). Microsoft decided it would be easier if everybody in the whole world changed their web pages, rather than actually licensing the patent. Oh well, tough luck for us.

IE7: for you

The other interesting thing about IE7 is that you're going to install it, whether you like it or not. Why? Because Microsoft is making it a High Priority Security Update for Windows XP.

Remember last year, when all those worms were going around, and Microsoft advised everybody to turn on automatic updates, or face the dire and horrible consequences? Well now those security updates are going to automatically install an entirely new web browser on your machine -- depending on your settings, it may just do it and not even tell you until after it's done.

For me, this is great news -- I hate IE6, and it makes my job difficult. For you, this is probably not such good news. IE7 is not a "fix". It doesn't just fix some error and leave your computer unchanged. IE7 is a totally new browser, with a completely new interface and dozens of new features, like RSS feed support.

Those are good features, and well done to Microsoft for seeing the competition and adopting their best ideas rather than trying to invent a competing standard as they have in the past. But installing a change of this magnitude automatically is stupid. This is the kind of thing that is going to scare novice users, frustrate experienced ones, and worse, make really, really angry the ones who use internal tools or plugins that aren't available for IE7 to do their jobs every day.

And as the BBC article mentions, Microsoft says it will "be possible to uninstall the program if people try it and then do not want to use it". A security fix that you can uninstall? That's not a security fix.

So Microsoft is producing an untypically Microsoft piece of software: IE 7 is a really good new browser -- to my shock -- but delivering it in a way that is callous, thoughtless, arrogant and typically Microsoft in every way. Oh well, 5/10, and an extra point for trying. But still not good enough.