[Review] Internet Explorer 5 New Features Roars Past Netscape Communicator (With Benchmarks)
Contact And Other Information
|Product Home Page:
||Internet Explorer Macintosh Edition
One Microsoft Way
Redmond, WA 98052-6399
Mac OS version 7.6.1 or later
8 MB RAM plus Virtual Memory
12 MB hard disk space
QuickTime 3.0 or later
Open Transport 1.2 or later
|System Used For Testing:
||G3 All-in-one 233 MHz
Cable modem Internet access
128 MB of RAM
RAM disk for cache
Internet Explorer 5
by Michael Munger
Internet Explorer 5 is the latest upgrade for Microsoft's key Internet browsing application. It has several new features, a faster browsing experience and an enhanced user interface.
Installation follows the pattern Mac users got familiar with when Microsoft released Office 98. You just drag and drop the folder from a disk (in this case, a disk image) to anywhere you want on your hard disk drive. When you launch IE for the first time, the "first run" application will dump a bunch of libraries in the system folder and create the preference files needed to run. If any of those files is missing or gets corrupted later, the application will launch again to fix them.
Internet Explorer has undergone major cosmetic reconstruction. Before, it used to be Appearance-savvy, but now it imposes its very own looks, sporting the famous lines found on iMac plastics and also in the up and coming Mac OS X Aqua interface. When Apple's operating system of the future comes out, Aqua and IE 5 will match perfectly. Something tells me that this is not coincidence...
The big deal about IE's interface is its customization possibilities. The default toolbar, aka the Button Bar, can be changed at will by moving the buttons around, adding and removing them and inserting separators. This is excellent since it helps to personalize the browser according to your own needs. For simplicity lovers, there are two simple predefined sets available.
But that's not all. The color of the buttons can change. The options available are:
- iMac flavors: Lime, Blueberry, Strawberry, Tangerine, Bondi and Grape
- PowerBook: Black and Bronze
This is handy, especially for power users who prefer to enhance their interface with Kaleidoscope color schemes or Apple themes. The colors can also match the colors of a Mac's case.
A welcome addition is the collapse button just on top of the Explorer bar. This arrow lets you get rid of all the toolbars to use the full length of the browsing window to visit sites using the Favorites menu. It leaves four small tool buttons: forward, back, refresh and stop.
As if this wasn't enough, the interface hands you the key to a lot of power with the improved Favorites toolbar. You can use simple Favorites but also FOLDERS that you fill with Favorites. For example (see screenshot), you can group sites by categories like sports or news sites. This lets you place more links in less space, this maximizing the use of your bar. Neat.
Microsoft boasts that its new rendering engine, code named Tasman, is really fast. In part, this is true. A speed test against Communicator 4.7, however, gives mixed results. In order to maximize performance, here are the conditions used for both browsers:
- A 5 MB RAM disk for better speed.
- A 4 MB empty cache in the browser preferences.
- Cable modem setup on a G3.
- No other applications active but the browser used.
From the speed test results, Explorer seems more powerful at handling complex pages with tables and images, but Netscape Communicator beats it to pieces when rendering text. Although the latter was faster on one more page than IE, it is hard to call a clear winner since each browser has strengths and weaknesses.
That said, Tasman, the new rendering engine, works nicely and outperforms IE 4.5 easily, especially in long browsing sessions since the browser doesn't slow down as much as it did in the past.
- New look and feel: as we have seen already, the new interface is more powerful and pleasing to the eye, though a lot of Kaleidoscope users will complain that IE is not Appearance-savvy anymore since it imposes an Aqua look.
- Auction Manager: this feature allows you to track auctions at sites such as eBay. I used this to sell an item and the result was flawless. The manager showed the high bidder at all times. The feature offers plenty of notification options like alert sounds and checking the auction status at regular intervals. This feature simplifies bidding and selling items and it can even allow you to win an auction in the last minutes with its notifications. You can even use Auction Favorites in the Favorites menu.
- Internet Scrapbook: the Scrapbook is handy. It saves pages on request. It takes all the images and HTML code from a server to save a page as it is when you activate the feature and it lets you consult it at any time you want, even when offline. The coolest part of this is that even pages resulting from forms will remain the same, while a classic save feature won't make the cut. It sounds a lot like a feature available in Opera for Windows.
- Media Toolbar: this was supposed to ship with the new version but the Explorer team took it out. It was there to take over multimedia playback in the browser. Maybe we'll get to see it in the next release.
- Search Assistant: Better than before, the searching functionality offers you search categories for more accurate results, and it will choose what search sites are appropriate for your query.
- Show Related Links: this new goody can show you links about the same subject as the site visited; the information is taken from a database on Microsoft's servers. Unfortunately, this is inferior to the "What's Related" feature in Communicator, which gives you more to munch on, especially about the site visited itself.
Other minor additions include:
- Better drag and drop of text and images to other applications.
- Keyboard shortcuts for moving through folders; move through folders and links in the Favorites and other panes and windows by using the control and arrow keys, while using the return key to follow a link.
- Unicode support to display international characters properly.
- Euro symbol enabled fonts.
- The ability to switch between font resolutions: 72 DPI for Mac and 96 DPI for Windows. The problem is that the 96 resolution is set by default and makes a page's text HUGE. It's a good thing that you can change it back to 72.
Some of these are not all new, but they are useful anyway. The browsing history is so nice. It groups sites by the day they were visited for future reference while Netscape's history is just a file used for the auto complete feature in the location bar. The Explorer bar is better than before, since the panes were replaced with a solid bar, which makes it more pleasing to the eye. The contextual menus are slightly better, offering the right items at the right places. The icons look much better, especially the Explorer throbber in the top right corner of the browser. Who used that spinning globe anyway? The AutoFill Forms feature is time saving and very handy. Of course, the fact that IE remembers your passwords for password protected web pages is lovely. It saves the time taken for those additional keystrokes but the double edged sword shows when you risk forgetting a new password after entering it only once...
IE 5 can crash when used at the same time as its e-mail companion, Outlook Express 5.02. During the testing, IE got multiple errors of Type 2, 3 and 11 when OE was active, and suddenly stopped throwing those alerts once Outlook was closed. Otherwise, Explorer showed stability throughout the tests.
Internet Explorer 5 is solid. While not perfect, it adds a lot of new features and the enhancements are numerous. While we are still waiting for a whole new Netscape Communicator, IE takes the lead in the browser war with more features, better respect of Web standards and speedier Web page delivery than before. Its usability edge over Communicator is not dramatic, but for the moment, IE is ahead.
Final Score (Maximum Score is 5 Gadgies)
||Powerful browsing software
Plenty of new features
Better respect of standards
||Doesn't outperform Netscape in all cases
Default 96 DPI resolution
Crashes while used with Outlook Express