How not to win back the hearts of web developers

For years, Internet Explorer has gradually been losing popularity among web developers and designers. It’s been losing popularity among users too, but at a much slower rate. The reasons are simple: IE is chock full of quirky bugs and doesn’t even try to adhere to a wide range of web standards that other browsers have supported for years.

There’s been a lot of buzz lately about Internet Explorer 7. The developers have been very open about stating their intentions for the browser and soliciting feedback from web developers, designers, and users. The new IE team seemed to realize that Microsoft had made a lot of enemies over the years by neglecting their browser, and they really seemed to be working hard to reverse that. A lot of people started getting their hopes up. Would IE 7 finally make things easier on us poor developers and designers who spend ungodly amounts of time trying to make our sites work in IE without sucking in every other browser? Would Microsoft finally start caring about web standards?

IE 7 beta 1 was released last week to much fanfare, and then there was a huge backlash. Everyone and their dog wanted to know if IE 7’s support for web standards had improved, and everyone and their dog was disappointed when they discovered that nothing seems to have changed. Except the UI, that is. Everyone’s fears were confirmed: IE 7 is no less broken than IE 6. Oh, except that it now supports PNG alpha channels and has tabbed browsing. Woo.

Now the IE team is trying to deal with the backlash by saying that all the important bug fixes and CSS improvements are coming in beta 2. Their explanation, apparently, is that they’re on a tight schedule, have lots to do, and had to get the high priority stuff done for beta 1. Apparently the IE team’s priority list looks something like this:

  1. Implement tabbed browsing, because all the good browsers have it.
  2. Burn the official Windows UI guidelines and piss on the ashes.
  3. Move the menu bar under the toolbar, where nobody will think to look for it.
  4. Fuck around with the toolbar buttons and make it impossible for users to customize the toolbar layout.
  5. Pop up an annoying dialog on every other page the user visits, telling them they should enable Anti-Phishing Protection to make sure the website isn’t trying to kill their firstborn son.
  6. Make the Intarweb thingy work better.

The IE developers sure spout a lot of talk about fixing bugs and improving standards support, and I’m sure they’re good folks and they actually do care about these things, but releasing beta 1 with a bunch of stupid UI changes and virtually none of the improvements developers have been begging them to make for years was just stupid. For godssake, the beta was only available on MSDN! Who has access to MSDN? Developers. Not users.

They had an excellent chance to make a good first impression on developers with IE 7 beta 1 and they blew it. It doesn’t matter now if beta 2 has everything we ever asked for; beta 1 has already dashed our hopes.