So Microsoft released the first beta of Internet Explorer 8 to the public the other day. Press releases and documents on the IE 8 site contain plenty of exciting promises of new and improved features, such as:
  • Full and complete CSS 2.1 support
  • Partial CSS 3 support
  • Better JavaScript performance
  • Fixes for a number of long-standing JavaScript bugs
  • Built-in developer tools
  • WAI-ARIA support
It all sounds very promising, but if you're hoping for IE 8 Beta 1 to catch up with other contemporary browsers, you'd better lower your expectations a bit. I had high hopes after reading about the new features and improved support for standards Microsoft are aiming for in IE 8, but after trying out Beta 1 I have to say that I am a little disappointed.
Yeah I know, I know. It's a beta version, so bugs and problems are to be expected. I still thought IE 8 Beta 1 would be more polished than it is. Anyway, here are some of the areas I have looked a little closer at.
CSS 2.1

Microsoft have made it clear that they aren't done with the CSS 2.1 implementation yet and that there is much more to come in Beta 2, so things will improve. After checking a bunch of the sites I've built recently in IE 8 Beta 1 I can verify that CSS 2.1 support is not complete – some things break. Full CSS 2.1 support is very, very promising though, so I really hope the IE team manages to fulfill this promise.
Built-in developer tools

Internet Explorer is in desperate need of a reliable debugging tool on par with Firebug, and IE 8 does have built-in developer tools for CSS and JavaScript debugging. Great!
I suppose it's unfair to compare IE 8's developer tools to the excellent Firebug extension, but it can't be helped. Firebug has set the bar for what any browser based developer tools need to match.
Unfortunately IE 8's developer tools are currently very lacking in features, look very unpolished, and seem quite buggy. They don't come anywhere close to Firebug. Like CSS 2.1 support, Microsoft is open about the developer tools not being finished, so they will hopefully be much improved in the next beta release.
Zoom

Since IE 8 still refuses to resize text sized in pixels, zoom functionality is very important for people who need larger text. Zooming in IE 7 is a mess, and it is supposed to be improved in IE 8. So is it?
Well... yes and no. Zooming is less likely to create massive horizontal scrollbars than in IE 7, but it has major problems on some sites, where zooming just one step completely destroys the layout (try it on this site to see what I mean). Talk about breaking the web... Zoom appears to need more work before it becomes usable.
Looking forward to Beta 2

I realise I may be coming across as being a bit negative here, but I was really hoping for more after Microsoft's surprising move to let IE 8 use its most compliant standards mode by default. I guess I was hoping for too much at this stage.
To end this on a positive note, it's excellent to see the improvements mentioned on the IE 8 website. Beta 2 is sure to deliver much more than Beta 1, and I'm looking forward to it.
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Posted in Browsers.
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