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IE 10's Metro Experience Draws Skeptics

Microsoft on Tuesday described features and concepts behind its Internet Explorer 10 browsers for Windows 8, but public reactions seemed mixed.

IE 10, which is currently available with the Windows 8 consumer preview, is actually two browsers. One is designed for a classic "desktop" user interface and the other for a "Metro-style" experience. Windows 8 users can switch between using these two IE 10 browsers or they can use browsers made by other companies when those browsers are ready. However, Windows 8 users won't be able to run something like IE 9 because Windows 8 won't support earlier IE versions, according to Microsoft's IE 10 FAQ.

The Multiple Tabs Issue
Rob Mauceri, the group program manager for Internet Explorer, explained in a blog post that Microsoft has found that many people will prefer the Metro-style UI when browsing sites using IE 10 on Windows 8. However, based on public feedback to that post, not everyone seems to share that view.

Those persons expressing discontent on the blog run the gamut from Metro haters to Chrome lovers, as well as people with thoughtful points to make. Web surfers who work with multiple tabs open also raised objections. In the IE 10 Metro-style browser on Windows 8, you have to swipe from the bottom or top of the screen with your finger, use the right mouse button, or press the Windows key plus "Z" on the keyboard, to see open tabs, which otherwise aren't visible on the screen. The tabs are more like a collection of screens icons that hang at the top of the screen when viewed in this way.

Such lack of visibility potentially could be an unpleasant scenario for heavy tab users. Steven Sinofsky, president of Microsoft's Windows and Windows Live Division, responded to a question about using IE 10 with 40-plus tabs open. In those cases, it's a good idea to use the desktop IE 10 browser, rather than the Metro one, he indicated.

"@c_barth -- you are exactly right about when to use a desktop browser and 40 open tabs and the usage pattern you describe is right for the model of the desktop browsers (which is why we have it)," Sinofsky explained in the blog post. He added that Microsoft's research showed that the majority (97 percent) of people just have five or less tabs open when browsing the Web with IE.

One new tab feature in IE 10 is the ability to create an "InPrivate tab." It's Microsoft's privacy feature seen in IE 9 that now works at the tab level in IE 10. Using it leaves "no history, cookies, or cached data," Mauceri explained in the blog. IE 10 also has an "enhanced protected mode" that is designed as a better way of isolating Web content in each tab, he added.

Metro vs. F11 Key
In Windows 8, Metro applications run in full-screen mode, without chromed borders and visible controls. Microsoft has previously explained its rationale behind Metro as a way to quickly surface access to applications, rather than burying them in menu trees on the Start button. The Metro UI also helps to touch-optimize apps, making Windows 8 better suited for use on tablets with smaller screens, although a keyboard and mouse combination still works too. Metro-style IE 10 is also unique in that it runs without browser plug-ins such as Microsoft Silverlight or Adobe Flash.

One person writing in Microsoft's blog post objected to this minimalist Metro scenario for IE 10. Running sites in full-screen mode in a browser is already possible by just pressing the F11 key.

"Metro-style IE10 is good for touch users, but why would I want a plugin-free, Metro-style IE10 when I can have the full capabilities of a desktop browser and a chromeless browsing experience simply by pressing F11 in the desktop browser?" the person wrote. The question wasn't answered by Microsoft.

Favorites vs. Pinning Sites
The "favorite sites" feature in IE 9, which stores a list of book-marked URLs for later quick access by users, is replaced in IE 10 by having users pin sites to the taskbar at the bottom of the screen. Many complained in Microsoft's blog post that such a scenario just wouldn't be practical.

"What about the 480+ favorites I have? No Metro IE for me," one Microsoft blog reader wrote.

This scenario seems like another one where users would want to use the desktop IE 10, but Microsoft didn't provide a ready answer to the question. Instead, its blog post describes something called "navigation tiles" in Metro IE 10.

The "navigation tiles" screen in Metro IE 10 shows frequently visited sites and pinned sites. Users who type in the navigation bar at this screen will access the browser's history and favorites, which is reflected in the screen's display, Mauceri explained. He added that a user's browser history and preferences can stay common across other Windows devices if the user sets it up that way. 

"As you type in the address bar, the navigation tiles filter to show you sites from your history, favorites and even popular URLs," Mauceri wrote. "With Windows 8 roaming and connected accounts, your browsing history and favorites roam with you so that you can easily access recent webpages across all of your PCs."

Navigation Tiles
[Click on image for larger view.]
Microsoft's navigation tiles screen in Windows 8.

Getting Ready for Metro IE 10
It looks like people are going to have an adjustment period trying to get used to the new Metro IE 10 UI. On the other side, Microsoft is indicating that Web sites aren't necessarily ready for IE 10 Metro either. IE 10 is designed to support hardware acceleration either through a machine's graphics card or through emulation. Like its IE 9 predecessor, IE 10 can tap "native" video support, without using plug-ins, via the HTML5 <video> tag.

IE 10, IE 9 and other browsers are capable of leveraging some of the new HTML5 capabilities described in the Worldwide Web Consortium's evolving draft spec. However, Dean Hachamovitch, Microsoft's corporate vice president of Internet Explorer, cautioned in a blog post that "the quality and correctness of different browser's HTML5 engines continue to vary widely."

Hachamovitch didn't provide specifics on that point in the blog, but he had a few recommendations for site developers. For instance, Web sites should check for HTML5 features, and not for the browser type. He said that sites should check when plug-ins are not available to the user and then rely on "native browser patterns" in such instances. He also urged Web developers to update their old libraries because they won't work with IE 10.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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