If you’re one of the 50% of PC users with Windows 7, be prepared for an essential update coming your way. Internet Explorer 9 has been officially retired to make way for IE10. The new browser will be installed as part of the standard Windows Update unless you explicitly prevent it (please don’t!)
It’s an important milestone for web developers. While IE9 was a radical step up from IE8, it was missing features we take for granted in Safari, Firefox, Chrome and Opera: CSS3 gradients, text shadows, animations, transitions, column layouts, flexbox, ECMAScript strict mode, media query listeners, the file API, web workers, local storage, etc. IE10 plugs many of the HTML5 gaps.
There’s another vital feature in IE10: automated updates. While Microsoft are yet to use it, IE10 can receive smaller incremental tweaks over time. I’m not expecting a Chrome or Firefox-like six-week delivery schedule, but two or three times per year would be significantly better than the current 18-24 month delay.
IE9 is likely to die rapidly especially since system administrators will not experience the upgrade issues which dogged previous versions. It will remain the default browser on Vista but the OS currently holds 6% of the PC market and is dropping fast.
IE6 and IE7 are dead. They still roam zombie-like across certain sectors of the web but, for most of us, the days of IE-specific hacks and fixes are long gone.
The IE8 Problem
Which leaves us with IE8. The browser holds 10% of the market and is the only version available for Windows XP which is used by one quarter of PC users. Many have stated that IE8 is the next IE6 (including me), but I’ve recently revised my pessimistic opinion…
- It depends on the statistics you believe, but competition from Google has changed the market. Chrome can be installed on XP, is advertised throughout Google’s ecosystem and light years ahead of IE8.
- IE8 usage is dropping by 0.5% per month. If the trend continues, it will hold just 5-6% of the market by the end of 2013.
- IE8 may not support HTML5, CSS3, SVG or media queries but it has few of issues we had to deal with in IE6 and 7. Your site will be missing rounded corners and drop-shadows, but the HTML5 shim will fix the majority of layout problems. It may not be pretty, but your site should work.
- IE8 is two versions old. Version numbers rarely matter to developers but it’s an important psychological gap for your clients.
It would have been great had Microsoft released a version of IE10 for XP and Vista but it’s probably not worth the effort. IE8 will die a natural death regardless of Microsoft’s aging OS platforms.
But let’s look at the positives: IE10 does much to catch up with the competition. It’s taken too long to arrive but I hope it becomes the most dominant version of IE within a few short months.
Craig is a freelance UK web consultant who built his first page for IE2.0 in 1995. Since that time he's been advocating standards, accessibility, and best-practice HTML5 techniques. He's created enterprise specifications, websites and online applications for companies and organisations including the UK Parliament, the European Parliament, the Department of Energy & Climate Change, Microsoft, and more. He's written more than 1,000 articles for SitePoint and you can find him @craigbuckler.