Microsoft: IE 7 Is AJAX-Ready

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2006-10-26

Microsoft: IE 7 Is AJAX-Ready

BOSTON—Although Microsofts Internet Explorer team has just shipped Version 7 of the browser, it is already working on IE 8—or should that be "IE Next?—said a platform architect on the team.

At the AJAX Experience conference here, Chris Wilson, platform architect for the Internet Explorer platform at Microsoft, said, "The team is hard at work on IE 8," then with a smile added, "I think I am supposed to call it IE Next."

In any event, Wilson gave two talks at the event, saying key themes for the next version of IE will include "user security and privacy, improving the Web application platform, providing the best Web user experience, and compatibility will continue to be a tenet."

Wilson poked fun at criticism that Microsoft would never ship a stand-alone version of its browser by showing a picture of a pig flying across a crowd of people. IE 7 has shipped, and the pig has flown, he said.

However, speaking on the issue at hand for the conference—AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML—Wilson said, "IE 7 does more than just fix very minor features; it makes AJAX fun to develop. It doesnt actually suck."

With IE 7, Microsoft has significantly improved its flagship browser. Click here to read eWEEK Labs review.

Moreover, asked about Microsofts perspective on JavaScript 2, the future version of the browser language, Wilson said that while he is waiting to hear more about what people see as important about JavaScript 2, "were working on JavaScript again [at Microsoft], which I think is great. Weve managed to get it accepted at the company as a language a lot of people are working on—thats not always been the case at Microsoft."

Wilson said that in the first four days after releasing IE 7, Microsoft saw 3 million downloads of the browser, "and that was without Automatic Update," he said. He also said 90 percent of the Windows-based Web share is on Windows XP, so the adoption curve on IE 7 should ramp up quickly.

In a separate talk at the AJAX Experience show, Brendan Eich, chief technology officer at Mozilla and creator of the JavaScript language, said that in just 22 hours after releasing Firefox 2, Mozilla saw 2 million downloads of the open-source browser.

Click here to read eWEEK Labs review of Firefox 2.0.

Although IE 7 adds standards compliance and fixes other issues, some pages that work with IE 6 may not work with the new version, according to Wilson. So he rallied developers to a call to action.

"Please test your pages with IE 7," he said. "Standards improvements mean behavior will change. End users dont like broken pages; make sure your IE components are prepared for opt-in and protected modes. Take the leap, use the new stuff, RSS-ify now, use OpenSearch for search exposure, and give us feedback."

Microsoft made many improvements to IE to help Web developers, Wilson said. One of the companys key areas of focus is "folks who need to make a living; we fixed the top most painful bugs and added the most-requested standards," he said.

Indeed, Microsoft fixed several inconsistencies that existed between IE and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) specifications, such as including native XMLHttpRequest support.

And addressing AJAX-related problems, Microsoft improved JavaScript garbage collection performance, fixed some major memory leaks and fixed caching of gzipped files. Microsoft also fixed more than 200 CSS (Cascading Stylesheets) and layout bugs, including parser bugs, memory leaks in the Jscript engine and overflow behavior bugs, Wilson said.

Next Page: IEs "quirks mode."

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Citing standards compliance, Wilson said, "Weve broken a lot of things on purpose in IE. We have to be really careful what were breaking, and how many people its going to affect."

Moreover, quoting one of his own superiors, Wilson said, "Im really concerned that were breaking stuff in the name of goodness, but all users and developers will walk away with is that stuff broke."

For that reason IE 7 also has a "quirks mode" that does not reflect the changes that will go into the "strict" or standards mode or version of the product.

In addition, Microsoft has a dedicated compatibility team focused on ensuring compatibility for users.

Still, Wilson said he needs developers to "help break the vicious cycle. We prioritized fixing our platform and attacking standards bugs. I need you to help by testing and fixing pages. This is a symbiotic relationship."

Moreover, Microsoft has created an IE 7 Readiness Toolkit, with a Web developer toolbar, an Expression Finder that looks for CSS hacks and an application compatibility toolkit.

An AOL executive says AJAX helps the online mega-community run. Click here to read more.

Wilson worked on the original National Center for Supercomputing Applications Mosaic browser, where he co-authored the first version of NCSA Mosaic for Windows. He later joined Microsoft, where he has worked on every version of IE since at least Version 4, he said.

"Security is the most important job on the IE team," he said, and with IE 7 Microsoft has added enhancements to protect users against Web fraud, provide safer defaults and full user control, and enhance malware protection.

Meanwhile, in a keynote titled "The Once and Future Web," Wilson said he believes mashups will continue to drive innovation, as componentization and semantic tagging of data continues to grow in importance. Also, privacy will become a bigger issue, he said.

Wilson came prepared with his own set of frequently asked questions. Users have asked for the ability to run side-by-side versions of IE, he said. However, "were not a single application, but a set of system DLLs," which makes this difficult. "Weve been trying to figure out how to do this," he said. One possible solution is virtualization, he said: "Virtual PC is now free, but we are still trying to figure out the story around images and the licensing of images."

Moreover, Wilson said IE will likely not support XHTML any time soon. "Not until we can do it right," he said.

On the future of the web, Wilson said maps have driven the mashup revolution and mashups have helped to generate the rebirth of the semantic Web due to the notion that there is semantic information attached to data.

"RSS is ubiquitous for semantic data," he said. "And microformats add a lot of missing meaning to HTML." Microformats are markups that enable expression of semantics in an HTML (or XHTML) Web page.

Wilson said developers will want to layer semantic data. "You want to be able to componentize semantic data into applications," he said, noting that tagging defines folksonomies. "It creates mini cultures of content."

In addition, "mashing up makes semantics useful," he said. For instance, Microsofts "Live Clipboard mashes up microformats" and makes the Web more usable for more users, he said.

Meanwhile, Wilson called for Web developers to "design in key factors from Day One: accessibility, security and privacy."

Yet, he warned that AJAX has "increased the attack vectors on the Web." In addition, mashup code sharing requires trust, he said. "You must trust the code you consume or create a sandbox around it."

Finally, Wilson warned developers that while Web frameworks can be useful, developers should "understand why you are using them" because they may represent a "potential Tower of Babel for integration" down the road.

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