High Level Product Comparative Analysis: Microsoft Internet Explorer 7

last modified, August 4, 2006 by rebron
Product Name: Internet Explorer 7 for Windows XP SP 2 and Windows Vista
Company Name: Microsoft

One sentence description / Positioning statement:
 MSFT's tagline:
"Microsoft Internet Explorer 7 is the world's most popular web browser that's now more secure and easier to use."
Overall Impressions:
  • IE 7 is going to confuse a good % of their users.  IE 7 team went overboard in "simplifying" the user interface as well as adding complexity with new features and concepts. 
    • Some of the problems include:
      • Keeping the location bar fixed at the top of the browser. (done for security reasons, questionable benefit)
      • Removing the File menu by default and hiding the Links menu. 
      • The "command bar" buttons are strangely placed on the right side of the screen. 
      • MSFT split the location of the buttons with some on the left side of the location bar and others on the right side.
      • MSFT has introduced a floating sidebar for Favorites, Feeds, and History.  Not clear why. 
      • MSFT is introducing several new concepts that users have to grasp including anti-phishing, RSS/Feeds, and tabbed browsing/tabbed browsing features and prefs. 
      • Status bar has buttons that appear and disappear: pop-up blocker, add-ons, security, p3p, and anti-phishing settings.
  • Internet Explorer 7 is a catch up release in responses to the popularity of Firefox.  If it were not for Firefox, there would have been no impetus for Microsoft to have upgraded Internet Explorer (at least in a significant way). 
  • Main Marketing Themes: new features (primarily tabbed browsing and anti-phishing), simplicity, and improved security.  
    • MSIE 7 has become a big part of Windows Vista marketing, mainly since there's not much to be excited about with Windows Vista.
  • Target platforms: MSIE 7 targeted at Windows XP SP2 users and Window Vista users only and will not be provided to Windows 2000 users.  
  • MSIE 7 gives MSFT the opportunity to "break" sites and web applications to an extent. Wholesale "breakage" will not be tolerated.
Features (IE 7 Beta 3)
  • MSIE 7 will include many of the same features of Firefox including:
    • Tabbed browsing -  on by default, also incl. bookmarking of group of tabs, setting a group of tabs as home page, tab overflow as a drop down list.  (can also turn tabbed browsing off).
    • Search bar and simplified UI - Search bar defaults to default provider in IE 6 or Windows Live.com.  Default providers in the drop down list is tbd.  Search bar also lets users 'Find in page'.  IE 7 allows management of search engine providers, format for search provider files is using Open Search specifications.
    • Anti-Phishing - quasi-on by default.  Feature was developed internally using client side detection plus server-side list provided by Phish Report (need to verify, list is likely from a combination of sources).  Feature is surfaced in the location bar, status bar, and Tools menu.  This feature does not work 100% of the time, not sure what % of time this feature will work given the nature of phishing.
    • Feed viewer - similar to Safari, detects RSS and Atom feeds, allows filtering and sorting of feeds
      • Note: improve for Firefox 3
  • MSIE 7 improvements over IE 6
    • Print Preview - introduced in IE 5.5, much improved, includes shrink to fit, adjustment of margins, thumbnail view of pages
      • Note: improve for Firefox 3.  Printing overall for Firefox needs to be improved.  IE 7 matches Firefox printing functionality but printing in Firefox hasn't been touched in a long while.
    • Pop-up blocking - introduced in IE 6 XP SP2, not clear on % block of popups and overall user experience
    • Image Resizing - Image resizing has been simplified to match Firefox, no more toolbar just a simple magnification toggle
    • Add-ons Management - Improved web site and management for Add-ons.  Still confusing however in the amount of information presented to the user.
  • MSIE 7 will include these features over Firefox:
    • Tabbed browsing - a) Expose feature.  b) Intro to tabbed browsing on first open of tab.  See about:Tabs.  Minor/questionable improvements over Firefox.
    • Page Zoom:  IE 7 allows for full page zoom, images + text.  This feature is surfaced in the status bar and page zooms by 125% and 150% (and then back to 100%) on selection of page zoom. 
      • Note: improve for Firefox 3
    • Security - IE 7 for Windows Vista (need to learn more about this, some sort of sandbox security model).
    • Internet Explorer Administration Kit - IE 7 focuses on providing a browser for enterprise users.  While Firefox does include enterprise features and enterprise grade security features, Firefox can improve in this area. 
  • MSIE 7 will not include these features
    • No Desktop search bundling, no ad blocking or other image features, no new version of Outlook Express.  Outlook Express is now Windows Mail. No Parental controls, feature to be included in OS (parental controls are becoming an OS feature)
    • No improvements to download management, No peer to peer features
    • No further MSN Messenger integration, no further Windows Media player integration, no MSN or web service integration e.g. server-stored bookmarks
Product Assesment:
  • The goals for IE 7 are: a) to sell Windows Vista, b) improve perceptions around IE 7 security for consumers and enterprise, c) stem the tide of declining browser market share from Firefox, Opera, and Safari.  IE 7 does not seem to be optimized for generating revenue.  Microsoft could do much more than just programming the Search bar in IE 7.
  • IE team's primary goal is to make IE 7 more secure and they've done a good job of securing the product and including features such as anti-phishing, improvements to Add-ons manager, and pop-up blocking. 
    • Others including AOL, Symantec, Opera, open source advocates will say that IE will not have done enough (read: users need to buy our products).
  • They have an "extension" add-on mechanism that provides great features but also opens IE up for exploits.  Google Toolbar, Yahoo Toolbar, etc help keep Internet Explorer in people's hands.
  • IE 7 will get share immediately as an upgrade to MSIE 6.0 through Windows Update and as the default browser for Vista.  IE 7 should not take away share from Firefox 1.5.  Microsoft is not including any features to migrate or lure Firefox users back to IE e.g. no mention of Firefox in documentation, no Firefox import tools, etc.
  • IE 7 can expect at least one severe vulnerability (or exploit) within 0-2 months to be found outside the company.

Other notes:
  • MSFT is essentially copying every feature in Firefox 1.0 namely tabbed browsing, feed integration, add-ons web site and manager, search engine and search engine list site, simplification of user interface.  It's clear they've tried to copy all of Firefox features but they're coming up short in terms of fit and polish.  Further, Mozilla has moved on to Firefox 1.5, 2, and already working on Firefox 3.
  • MSFT is leaving much of their users out in the cold (Windows 2000 users and lower) since IE 7 will only work on Windows XP SP 2 and Vista.  Not to mention no solution for Mac OS X (and to a lesser degree Linux).
  • MSFT's Add-ons aren't new nor are they compelling.  Top IE 7 Add-ons include Google and Yahoo! Toolbars, AdAware, SpyBot, SpyAware.
  • You will always lose a feature war with Microsoft.  Microsoft has incentive to add features and they do so but they also do so very poorly e.g. Content Advisor, P3P, Security Zones, and Anti-phishing -  all features in IE 7 that are confusing and barely work. 
Mozilla must continue to include features that makes sense, keep Firefox focused on being the best browser for delivering web sites and applications (meaning limiting features to distract users from interacting w/ web sites/applications), and not fall into a feature war trap w/ Microsoft. 

Microsoft has several trump cards: 1) bundling IE with the operating system and Windows Update, 2) optimizing web sites they own and partner web sites to IE 7 or locking sites out all together, 3) deeper integration w/ Windows Media player, Messenger, other MSFT apps.  MSFT has already played the bundling card.  To maintain IE's dominance, they must and will optimize their web sites and applications as well as other partner's applications to work better or only in IE.  MSFT has already done this with the new Windows Mail beta and with the MTV web site.  While MSFT has not done deeper integration w/ WMP or Messenger, look for them to do so in the next version of Internet Explorer.

Outstanding Questions:
  • What's the strategy for Active X? 
  • What's next after IE 7, IE 8 in 2007?
System Requirements

OS: Windows Vista, Windows XP SP2

Memory: 32 MB of RAM minimum (doesn't sound right but this is what they published)
Full install size: 12 MB
Download Size: Has not mattered in the past.  Mostly distributed via OEM and OS sales, and Windows Update.
Top 5 key features (what about this product sets it apart from others in its category)

IE 7's top five are tabs, printing, rss feeds, search, and security

What should be the top 5 key features in Internet Explorer 7:
  • Security settings changes, anti-phishing feature
  • Tabbed browsing
  • RSS/Feeds integration
  • International Doman Names Support (huge win for countries, and domain registrars)
  • Best features are other people's add-ons like the Google or Yahoo Toolbar
Reminder of some the good features in Internet Explorer 6.0 XP SP 2 and earlier:
  • SP2 : Pop-up blocker, Information bar, Add-on manager
  • SP2: dropped features like link to Related Links, Windows Media bar/HTML bar
  • 6.0:  Image resizing, P3P (tough to grok for end users), Print Preview enhancements (intro'd in 5.5)

Standards support (need help here to complete)
  • UAAG (accessibility standards): good
  • CSS support  http://channel9.msdn.com/wiki/default.aspx/Channel9.InternetExplorerSupportforCSS
    • supports been improved, but still not as good as Firefox, Opera, Safari
  • SSL 2.0 has been dropped in favor of SSL 3.0 (same as in Firefox 2)
  • Quirks Mode: There are 3 levels? Standards, IE 6 quirks, and Quirks (looks like an IE 6 quirks mode has been added?)
  • data urls: no support in IE 7
  • MathML support: IE 7 doesn't and probably won't support
  • OpenType support: will improve (not supported in Mozilla/Firefox)
  • P3P is supported (Mozilla has some support but real world use/value is questionable)
  • PNG support: will see alpha transparency finally in IE 7
  • SVG support: probably won't support natively (partial support in Firefox 1.5+)
  • XForms support: not in IE 7
  • XBL or XUL support: not in IE 7 or ever
Current Languages: English, Arabic, Finnish, German, and Japanese

Expected Languages for final release: English, Japanese, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Finnish, Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, Korean, Brazilian Portuguese
Character Set support: Roman languages, Japanese, Chinese, Hebrew, Arabic, more.

Business model
  • Sales of operating system, tools, productivity, and server software
  • Advertising (search and content), drives users to MSN.com and Windows Live.com
  • rough estimate: 300MM active users, 70-75% of the global Web browser market
Date of most recent release:
Last patch update . 
Last official release was August 4, 2004, IE 6.0 XP SP 2. 
IE 7 Beta 1: July 27, 2005
IE 7 Beta 2:  January 31, 2006, refreshed in March 20, 2006
IE 7 Beta 3: July 21, 2006
IE 7 final release: tbd

Note: Increased focus on IE 7 development was announced at RSA in Feb 2005.

Customer support offerings: Tied to OS/OEM support or volume licensing support.  Also provides $35 for email, chat, or phone support per incident.  "Advanced" support is $245 per incident.  Provides users with a feedback mechanism via Talkbalk like system.  Newsgroups, support center, knowledge base, also available. 
Related Links/
Extreme Tech Browser comparison Firefox 2, IE 7, Opera 9