Internet Explorer 10: the Review

The final version of Microsoft Internet Explorer 10 has been with us since October 26. It’s been greeted with indifference across the web — probably because it’s only available on Windows 8 which relatively few people use. But IE10 marks an important milestone and it deserves a full review…

Installation

IE10 is installed with Windows 8 so, until it’s available for Windows 7, it’s not possible to determine whether you’ll encounter installation or compatibility issues. But you should note that Windows 8 is refreshingly quick and simple to install — 30 minutes of hard-disk chugging will have you up and running.

As you’d expect, IE10 is the default browser although Windows 8 will retain your current preferences if you’re upgrading. Those in the EU will also be offered the infamous browser choice screen where you can select Chrome, Firefox, Opera or a selection of little-known alternatives. Safari has disappeared following Apple’s decision to scrap the Windows version.

IE10 automatic updates

The most exciting news is that Microsoft has finally implemented automated updates. It’s on by default so let’s hope large organizations keep it that way when they get around to deploying Windows 8 in 2026.

Interface

IE is two browsers in one. When launched from the desktop, you’d be mistaken for thinking nothing has changed; IE10 looks identical to IE9:

IE10 desktop interface

We also have the Windows 8 UI-style version. Sorry Microsoft — I can’t bring myself to call it that name, so it’ll be referred to as Metro from here on:

IE10 Metro interface

The Metro version offers a sleeker, simpler UI with the same underlying rendering engine. It supports gestures such as swiping which makes it ideal for touchscreen tablets and large TVs. I’m not convinced you’ll use it much on a PC, but that’s partially because the Metro version can only be used when IE is set as your default browser.

IE10 and Windows 8 integration is as good as IE9 on Windows 7. The browser supports UI features such as pinned sites on the Metro start screen or taskbar, jump lists, peek and window snap.

Overall, IE10’s interface is functional and keeps out of the way. It may not be as attractive as Chrome, Firefox or Opera, but you rarely notice it. My only complaint is the Internet Options dialog which has barely changed since IE4 was introduced 15 years ago — it’s confusing, overly technical and needs an overhaul. That said, it finally allows you to start with the tabs opened in your previous session.

Web Standards

IE10 supports the modern HTML5 web features you’ll find in other browsers. This finally includes text-shadow, transforms, and animations. My Star Wars 3D Scrolling Text works!

While automated compliance testing rarely shows the whole story, we can see that IE10 surpasses IE9 by a considerable margin:

Browser HTML5test.com acid3.acidtests.org
Internet Explorer 10 320+6 / 500 100 / 100
Internet Explorer 9 138+5 / 500 95 / 100
Chrome 22 434+13 / 500 100 / 100
Firefox 16 372+10 / 500 100 / 100

The only exception is WebGL which Microsoft has identified as a “security risk”. While I’m slightly skeptical about that claim, the technology is not currently viable in anything but browser-specific games and demonstrations.

Interestingly, font rendering differs across the three main browsers (click to view full-size):

browser font comparison

It may depend on your PC, settings and personal preference, but IE’s text seems more readable than competing browsers.

In essence, Microsoft has created a modern browser which shouldn’t pose the development challenges we experienced with its predecessors. I’m yet to find a site which fails in IE10.

Performance

IE9 is no slouch so I had high expectations for IE10. The browser opens, renders and closes as quickly as before. Unfortunately, the benchmarks say otherwise…

Test IE10 Chrome 22 Firefox 16
Webkit SunSpider (lower = better) 6,244.7ms 200.3ms 211.2ms
Google V8 (higher = better) 143 11,368 7,223
MS 2,000 fish fps (higher = better) 9 17 34

Benchmarks do not necessarily reflect real-world usage, but I was surprised how badly IE10 performed (and how well Firefox fared). It’s possibly caused by something quirky occurring on my PC, but the browsers were tested on a clean Windows 8 installation with no other applications running.

IE10 does not feel slow and certainly starts quicker than Chrome or Firefox, but Microsoft’s browser has lost ground to others since IE9 was released.

Memory Usage

Few people worry about browser memory usage but I wanted to ensure IE wasn’t hogging the system. With four tabs open, the worst performer was Chrome with approximately 350MB (split across a dozen processes). IE10 consumed two-thirds of those resources with 240MB although, admittedly, Windows 8 could be running other background processes. The least-hungry browser was Firefox with 195MB.

Security

Microsoft do not have a reputation for producing secure software but the company is working hard to rectify that. Internet Explorer is as good — if not better — than its competitors. Features include:

  1. Enhanced Protection Mode isolates each tab.
  2. InPrivate browsing is isolated per tab rather than per session.
  3. Random memory addresses are used when IE loads modules.
  4. Microsoft’s SmartScreen download reputation service is used within IE and Windows 8 so you remain protected regardless of which browser you use.

As I reported last month, “Do Not Track” is enabled by default when you install Windows 8. This has upset advertisers, but few adhere with DNT guidelines so you’re unlikely to notice any difference.

Enhancements and Add-ons

IE10 installs a performance-enhanced version Flash and, contrary to earlier reports, it works in both desktop and Metro modes.

However, IE’s selection of add-ons remains disappointing. Despite being one of the first browsers to support plug-ins, few companies develop for the browser. Those who do usually offer spammy shopping or search toolbars. Microsoft needs a different model if they want extension builders to take IE seriously. Adopting plug-in technologies similar to those used in Chrome, Opera or Firefox Jetpack would make a big difference.

Development Tools

IE10 provides the same F12 Developer Tools as IE9. It’s better than nothing, but increasingly shoddy compared to the Firefox tools, Firebug, the Webkit Inspector and Opera Dragonfly.

As well as IE10’s default standards rendering mode, developers and testers must also contend with:

  • IE10 compatibility mode
  • IE9 standards and quirks modes
  • IE8 standards and quirks modes
  • IE7 standards and quirks modes
  • IE5 quirks mode

To be fair, these are practical for testing purposes. Unfortunately, IE10 disables intranet browsing and switches those pages into compatibility mode by default. It’s therefore impossible to test a site hosted on your local machine. You can get around this restriction, but it’s a little quirky — watch out for an article coming soon.

Ultimately, Microsoft has few excuses. They cannot expect developers to flock back to IE without providing a good selection of tools. I hope they concentrate on those facilities now less urgent work is required on the Trident rendering engine.

Conclusion

IE10 is a good, capable browser. It’s fast and offers the majority of HTML5 and CSS3 features we find in Chrome and Firefox.

IE10 good points:

  • A fast, unobtrusive interface with excellent OS integration
  • Strong standards support
  • Metro mode is ideal for tablets and touch-screens
  • Automatic updates. Finally.

IE10 bad points:

  • Limited to Windows 8 (Windows 7 will hopefully arrive soon)
  • Poor development tools, few add-ons and overwhelming options dialog
  • Microsoft’s pace of development is too slow
  • IE10 has caught other browsers — but it’s not better.

Considering the 19-month development period and radical changes in Windows 8, I was hoping for a little more. Users will like IE10, but I doubt they will love it. Microsoft may slow the rate of Internet Explorer migration, but IE10 offers few compelling reasons switch from another browser.

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  • http://www.twitter.com/thomasbandit Thomas

    Not that internet explorer is bad now but, as a web developer, and lifelong Windows user (primarily), I do find myself regularly wishing Microsoft would just kill the development of IE! Not that it’ll happen but whenever designing and developing you find something new and cool, you can count on IE slowing that down or giving the most grief.

    I guess it partly depends on what browser you primarily develop in but I doubt I’m alone in ever feeling this. Good review but like you state at the end, it feels like Microsoft are always playing catch-up with browsers. For me, Firefox ftw!

    • http://niteodesign.com Blake Petersen

      I agree, for me it’s almost to the point that I am just developing for Chrome and FF and just hoping IE works. If it doesn’t, “Oh well, that’s what you get for using IE!”. Definitely the WRONG attitude to have but i would so love to just kiss off that beast once and for all. Plus all the nuances between the versions, “oh yea that hack will work for IE7 but messes up IE8. If you target IE8, IE7 and IE9 will break. IE10? Go buy our new OS and find out.”

      Also, browsers should be platform agnostic. Period.

      For me, Chrome FTW!

    • Logic

      It is because they stop development of IE back when IE 6 was released that has been the bane of a web developer. Stopping development of IE now would put us right back at IE6. We do NOT want that! In either case, if you are having trouble with IE8+, which has almost perfect CSS 2.1 support compared to all the other browsers. You are doing something WRONG.

    • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

      Personally, I’m glad Microsoft has continued browser development. Competition is healthy and IE10 is a great browser — it’s just not better than the others. And, as Logic points out, IE works. If it doesn’t, the chances are you’re using a vendor specific prefix/API … which was exactly what IE6 developers did a decade ago. Fix it.

      Without Microsoft, Google would have almost total domination over the web and browser market. Would they abuse that position? Would they start charging for free services we now depend on? Who would stop them?

      • http://devseo.co.uk Alex Hall

        The trouble being that we still can’t develop specifically for the modern browsers in a lot of cases because corporate sites still have to support a majority of legacy users. IE10 is simply another one to add the the mix of IEs that requiring testing. That’s the major pain in the ass.

      • Glenn Philp

        Craig I couldn’t agree more. I find it irritating when a developer and especially a designer complain about IE. The new IE 10 is a great browser. I find that it uses many less resources on my machine and quite honestly I am glad it doesn’t come with all the add-on crap from Chrome or Firefox. If I need to debug as a developer I turn to Chrome or Firefox to find my issues.

        Actually, I can usually find any CSS or HTML errors with IE’s developer tools. Their JS debugging tool is not bad either. What I am finding is a lot of developers don’t develop with standards and thus are the issue with IE not working.

        “Practice what you preach” developers… I actually develop for IE first these days, especially since 10 is out. I know that if I develop using the correct DOCTYPE, no comments before the DOCTYPE, and then use CSS3 standards without prefixes, the site is going to work and look the way I want every time.

        Developers need to realize that Microsoft has also released their IE 10 browser for XBOX. There are developer standards out for Televisions. This is NOW another device we must start developing for, and guess what it is IE, not Chrome or FireFox.

        What I love doing is taking sites that block IE, removing their JS code and running the site, guess what 9/10 times the site works. It have some quirks but that is because the developer is apparently self-taught and doesn’t understand Standards.

        People that also don’t know the history of browsers do not understand that without IE, and yes IE’s mistakes we would not have the standards we do today. We have to make mistakes to fix them and make things better. Quit complaining and Continue learning or Quit Developing.

  • Helen Natasha Moore

    Someone once pointed out to me that so long as Microsoft can have their website as default browser page, they are never going to stop developing IE. It’s a store front, a money earner.

  • Aske

    Why on earth would they put the address bar at the bottom??

  • Glenn Philp

    Umm, so developing for standards first, which IE 9 is good at handling as well is a “pain in the ass”. IE6 should not even be considered anymore, it has less than 1 percent share. IE7 has barely 1 percent share, so dump it. Now that means all you have to make sure is that IE8 works.

    That is your “pain in the ass”? Develop for standards. If you typically start with the base layout for Mobile, Tablets, then PC’s (yes mac is a pc); then go back and add your vendor pre-fixes is so desired – I promise your site will work in every browser every time.

    Quit Complaining and Continue Learning or Quit Developing.

  • http://gregbabula.info Greg Babula

    If the IE team developed a solid tool-set for developers they would finally gain my respect back, until then I will never use IE for anything besides making sure my products work as expected.

  • http://www.onsydney.com.au Joe Logan

    I’m actually very pleased that Microsoft has yet again failed to produce a browser that can lead the pack in this highly competitive arena. I also feel that they are cannabalising themselves by not making this compatible with their other operating systems (let alone other OS’s altogether). Cross platform browsers such as Firefox are still leading for this and many additional reasons. I also don’t doubt that IE10 is still plagued by the annoying “are you sure you want to do this?” popups.

  • http://www.multibrowserviewer.com Anton Strydom

    We prefer to develop for IE9 first as well, then check other browsers. If it works in IE9, then it *should* work in the other browsers – or work with only a little tweaking.

    We then use the virtual browsers in Multi-Browser Viewer to do our cross browser and functional testing.

    I like IE10, I hate the fact that it is Windows 8 only (with windows 7 version coming soon) – so many users still on XP!

    With regard to IE6, IE7 – basic functionality still has to work for them, but no need for bells and whistles. Some of our big corporates are still using IE6 – hard to believe!

  • http://www.autodevis.fr auto devis

    Does anyone remember the battle between IE and Netscape. Now Internet Explorer has even tougher competition.

  • http://www.humbletutorial.com humble

    I used to be with problem with IE but now my problem have been solved with IE 10. thanx Glenn Philp you opened my eyes with your comment.

  • Koushik Manna

    The worst and frustrated thing is : In Aero theme The popup window’s Title is not coming still now.
    This issue was on IE9 also.
    Only Name is IE10 with auto update support & Tablet mode!
    No bug fix!

  • http://www.johnmanoah.com John Manoah

    “It may depend on your PC, settings and personal preference, but IE’s text seems more readable than competing browsers.” – One great feature still unbeaten, thanks to MS IE. The reading experience is incomparable as IE (7 and above) renders text so elegantly. Not sure why other browsers have not caught up yet!!

    • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

      Well, Microsoft do have full access to their ClearType API so it’s not necessarily surprising. Firefox is good — not quite as bold as IE (which I prefer), but I’m not sure the spacing’s quite right. Chrome is behind both.

  • http://volosites.com/ Mike McKee

    They got rid of IE Conditional Comments! The only thing we can do is a media query hack, and even then we can’t check for IE10 vs. IE11 vs. IE12 (when those others come out). IE is going to be behind the times on things, so I’m not holding out. Take for instance, adding border-radius AND at the same time a gradient — does it work? It didn’t in IE9, so I need to check it in IE10. G-d forbid anyone would actually want to use gradient and border-radius together like, oh, I dunno, ON BUTTONS.

    Microsoft makes my life painful. I never have these issues with Chrome, Firefox, Safari, or Opera. Why can’t Microsoft play nicely like the other browsers can? Why do they have to be the bully on the block?

    • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

      The fact is: you shouldn’t need Conditional Comments. IE10 follows standards as well as any other browser. IE9 probably didn’t need them either. They come in handy for IE8 and below but, even then, it’s possible to get around most problems without CCs — personally, I dislike and rarely use them.

    • Glenn Philp

      Mike, I apologize you don’t like the fact that MS got rid of IE Conditionals, I personally don’t use them, if you are great at developing standards you shouldn’t need them.

      Border-Radius and Box-Shadow and Text-Shadow all work perfect in IE 10. No need for Vendor Prefixes. Guess what IE 10 even supports Column-Count and multiple column styling without vendor prefixes. The latest version of Chrome 23 and Firefox 16 still require the vendor prefix.

      I am sure we can go back-and-forth on what one supports and one doesn’t. What I like about IE 10 is it does support standards and will support more as they become available. Plus with IE 10 unless it is unchecked by the user they will receive automatic updates.

      You can even find out about IE standards support through their developer guide at http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ie/hh673549(v=vs.85).aspx; plus some of the upcoming features they are working on like the use of display: grid and how it can already be implemented for testing in IE 10.

      Stop Complaining and Continue Learning or Quit Developing

  • http://www.semk.de Mark Klatt

    Windows 8 is very good, but I’m really disappointed from the IE 10, always the same for me quality issues like the change from IE 7 to IE 8 some years ago. From IE 8 to IE 9 the change was without problems. But in IE 10 again a lot of problems with Microsoft(!!their own controls – unbelievable!!) .NET items (e.g. Menu Control, GridView) – they are not working without problems and nothing is helping (Document Mode, uplevel, etc.) The only help is to change browser mode (not document mode) to compatibility mode manually – 100% unsatisfying.