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Nov 27 2013

The Verdict on Internet Explorer 11

As I wrote about earlier in the month, I thought I would give Internet Explorer 11 a go as my primary browser for the rest of the month. I was keen to see how well it would work given its compliance to most of the recent web standards and improved performance over prior versions and in comparison to the competition (such as Firefox and Chrome).

So, after two weeks, I’m here to deliver my verdict on the desktop version of the browser.

As the default browser on new installations of Windows 8.1 it does a fair enough job. Sites seems to load fairly quickly and most plug-ins will work with it without much of a hassle. That said, the Enhanced Protected Mode can upset some legacy plug-ins on 64-bit systems so you may want to disable that mode in Internet Options to get them working again.

Internet Explorer 11 under Windows 8.1 also builds in a new feature in the form of SPDY (pronounced “speedy”) support. This is a protocol developed by Google to speed up webpage load times through some clever optimisations and has seen adoption in Google’s own browser as well as Firefox leaving Internet Explorer as the last major hold out until now. Of course, SPDY only works with web servers that also support this protocol however that number is steadily increasing but for the sites that I have tested it certainly does help make IE11 feel snappy.

However, I did have a few issues with memory leakage with IE11. This usually occurred on pages where AJAX (Asynchronous  JavaScript and XML) was utilised. Annoyingly, after leaving an IE11 tab open on one of the cache statistics pages for my blog over night by accident I came back to find that it had chewed up 4GB of RAM by itself. I also found that other sites such as Facebook that rely more heavily on AJAX exhibited the same behaviour albeit at different rates of manifestation. Maybe there is something unique to my computer causing this to occur but it’s enough to make me go back to Firefox and Chrome and relegate Internet Explorer to being a backup browser.

You may also find that for the short term some websites may experience some quirks under IE11. This is because the user agent string has changed and now resembles something like the following:

Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 6.3; WOW64; Trident/7.0; rv:11.0) like Gecko

If you’ve got an eagle eye for user agent strings you’ll now notice that there is now no mention of MSIE anywhere. Some websites have used the practice of sniffing this string to determine what web browser is being used and then offer up a website specifically designed (or degraded) for it. IE11 is a lot closer to Firefox and Chrome now in terms of standards compliance and then need to code for browser specific quirks is negligible at best these days. Anyway, these quirks should be short lived but you can always fall back to compatibility mode if required.

As far as developers are concerned, things should be easier when it comes to developing for Microsoft’s browser particularly with edge mode embracing the most recent web standards moving forward and doing away with version specific document modes. Hopefully this signals a more nimble approach for standards support in the future.

All in all, IE11 works and works well but may require some bug ironing before I would consider it for use as my primary browser on my desktop computer. However, it’s a lot better than it has been in prior versions (particularly IE6 through IE8) and Microsoft continues to refine things as demonstrated in IE9 and IE10.

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