Things you might not have expected to read on this site: I hung out with the Internet Explorer team, and they’re fun people.
I decided to keep notes during MIX06 this week. I was interested in coming to this event to hear about Microsoft’s future plans for Internet Explorer. It’s been a predictably Microsoft-heavy event, but I hardly think exposure to this world is a bad thing. It is, after all, how a huge chunk of those building for the web approach their development, and at the root of it, we’re all doing basically the same thing with different tools.
Dinner with the IE Team
Thanks mainly to Tantek Çelik, I managed to show up at an IE team dinner the first night at the Venetian Hotel here in Las Vegas. We shared a table with Chris Wilson, and another guy whose name I remember bits and pieces of (but not enough to attempt to reconstruct here).
Of course at some point I managed to ask about the more recent update to IE7, which was released during this conference. But what I found more interesting was the tangents about the difficulty of true XML parsing, as experienced by Çelik and Wilson alike when attempting to implement in their respective browsers (IE/Mac and IE/Win). And of course, I’ve been extremely interested in the CSS updates that have occurred between IE7 Beta 2 Preview Release, and this new MIX build that came out yesterday.
Summary for the rest of us: Floats, overflow, and the like? Fixed. Done. It’s over. No more inconsistency, it looks like that’s a wrap. We get min-width and max-width. Oh, joyous day. CSS2 selectors? You name it. There’s only one remaining which might not make it into IE7, the rest are all there.
Naturally, I had to bring up (probably more than once) the question about CSS tables; namely, when will we get them? Cause that’s what us designer types are really waiting for. Grid-based layouts in IE? Hell yeah. Long story short: not IE7. Maybe IE7.5. It’s on their list. Maybe some of you can back me up on this, but I’d much rather see CSS tables implemented first, before generated content. Floats have only ever been a hackish way to layout a web page; we need something more intelligent, something that can say “yes please, I really would like column a to be as high as column b” and have it stick. Are you with me?
Bill Gates Keynote
Summarizing this one will be a bit tricky, as it was a bit of a rambling mind dump about the next few things Microsoft is doing in the web sphere. IE7, Vista, Atlas, a bit on WS-*, etc. There were a few guest speakers - the CTO of MySpace, who proceeded to show all the wildly innovative things MySpace is doing with Microsoft technology (useless photo rotating widgets and the like); a fellow from the BBC (I missed his title) who was a much more engaging speaker than either of the previous two, and proceeded to tell us about the archival problems that the BBC faces (600,000 hours of programming going back to the 30’s) and the technological solutions they’re exploring to make that accessible to the British public; and finally, Tim O’Reilly came on to interview Gates for a half hour or so.
Gates himself touched on some of the IE improvements we can expect, things like UI and security upgrades, and a bit of lip service to the CSS update. What was most interesting to me is that he issued a mea culpa about Microsoft’s sitting on IE for so long, and that IE7 is definitely not the end of the line this time.
The Tim O’Reilly interview was interesting, as Tim and the audience had a few tough questions that could have been insightful, had Gates answered them at face value. Questions about competition, mainly — the theme seemed to be, should we take you at your word this time, given what we know from the last 10 years? But the answers rarely matched the question, and meandered into other Microsoft territory that seemed more in line with the conference agenda.
Dean Hachamovitch Keynote
Dean started with a quick history of IE, that left off at 2001. After that? (sound: crickets chirping) Anything short of an apology from Microsoft at this point is not enough: “we messed up,” said Dean. But now, “we get it”. They’re fixing it. And it’s time to show that, and keep showing it with continual improvement.
The new IE7 build was then announced, and we got a look at some of the UI/security updates. Tabs, a customizable drop-down search box, SSL certificate warnings, and the like. Lots of catch-up to everyone else, of course, but there were a few neat new things on that end.
The new search box is going to allow you to search any site, and will notify the user if a site can potentially be added to the drop-down list. Driving that is an open format that anyone can implement. The security updates are much more obtrusive, trying to actively prevent people from falling victim to all the current online scams. If you change your security settings to something unsafe, IE will nag you until you change them back, and give you a one-click method to do it. Some usability trade-offs happening here, but I think the industry is universally figuring out that ease of use doesn’t outweigh safety.
So, CSS? Where are we now? Dean loaded up a couple of examples from Position is Everything and Eric Meyer’s css/edge demos, and showed IE6 and IE7 rendering. We didn’t get many more details than that, but there’s clearly a lot more improvement happening.
On to RSS. Aside from the usual catch-up, there are a few cool things they’re doing here. Dean showed an Amazon wishlist feed, where IE exposes a couple of smart filters that allow a user to filter/sort the feed by price, name, description etc. Then he showed a vanilla Flickr feed where he could hit a button and kick in a full-screen slideshow of the high-res photos. Though Apple’s blue swirling RSS screensaver in Tiger is nicely rendered, this insta-screensaver from an RSS feed is seriously cool.
On to Atlas, where I tuned out to polish my notes. Atlas is essentially an AJAX and ASP.NET framework for rapid application development. Seems like a good idea if you’re using ASP.NET. I’m not.
Side note: during the morning, I heard both Gates and Dean mention the term “beyond the browser” a few times. Hmm.
That’s all I’ve got the time to write up for now. I’ll likely come back in and supplement this with my notes from the Microsoft Expression sessions later in the afternoon, and the Future of IE7 panel with Dean, Chris Wilson, Eric Meyer, Molly, and a few others.