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IE5 Is Quantum Leap for Mac Browsers

by Eric A. Meyer
04/07/2000
   Mac IE5 Highlights

Noninvasive Explorer Tabs: Tabs don't intrude on the page layout.

Scrapbook: Save a completely functional snapshot of a web page.

Text Zoom: Shrink and enlarge any text on the page.

Full CSS1 Support: And some CSS2 also.

Full PNG Support: PNGs are now rendered accurately.

Join our discussion in the O'Reilly Network Browsers Forum.

At long last, Microsoft has released Internet Explorer 5 for Macintosh. This release is a major overhaul, not just a collection of bug fixes, and is already generating quite a bit of comment, confusion, and general buzz. Some of it's very positive, some rather negative, but everyone seems to agree on one point: There's very little the same between Internet Explorer 4.5 and Internet Explorer 5.

Aqua Thieves?

Let's get to the obvious one first: The look of Internet Explorer 5 is very, very different from Internet Explorer 4.5, and very much like Aqua (Apple's look for OS X). Pretty cool, from a purely technological standpoint. That translucent drop-down menu (which we'll explore later) is a nifty effect, and the overall look is certainly striking, especially compared to the interface for IE 4.5.

The natural conclusion to draw is that the Internet Explorer team ripped off Apple's work on Aqua -- or, if you prefer to be charitable, they liked Aqua so much that they decided to imitate it. Neither is true, according to the product development team. The look you see in Internet Explorer 5 was first created several months before Aqua's public debut in January. That was the first time that the Internet Explorer team saw Aqua, along with the rest of us.

So if that's true, how did they end up with something so similar? Simple: Both the Apple and Microsoft teams obviously sat down and asked themselves, "If an iMac had an interface for a brother, what would it look like?" That their answers came out looking similar shouldn't be a major surprise.

Figure 1: The IE5 interface has a distinct Aqua feel.
Figure 1. The new interface has a distinct Aqua feel. Note the improved Explorer bar down the left side and the custom buttons along the top.

For those of you who actually do use iMacs, you'll be happy to know that you can pick toolbar flavors to match your machine: Grape, Blueberry, Tangerine, Lime, and Orange are all represented. There are four additional toolbar flavors: Bondi, Graphite, PowerBook Black, and PowerBook Bronze. They all use the same icons but with different color shading. Initial reaction has been mixed, but one thing has been made clear: You can't create custom skins for Internet Explorer 5. Love them or hate them, the new toolbars and icons are the only interface choices.

Interface Enhancements

Toolbar Favorites: Separate from the aesthetics of the new interface, there are some new features to make browsing a little easier. First improvement is the "expanded list" arrow on the Toolbar Favorites. Did you ever get the point in Internet Explorer 4.5 where you were abbreviating Favorites just to get them all visible in your toolbar? You can still use your abbreviations and acronyms, but now you can easily view the all of your Toolbar Favorites without having to open a new window (see Figure 2). You can even put a folder in the Toolbar Favorites (see Figure 3) if you have a number of related sites that you visit often.

Figure 2: Toolbar Favorites
Figure 2. Toolbar Favorites now supports a drop-down menu similar to the function in Internet Explorer 5 for Windows.

This new approach to Toolbar Favorites combines the best of previous Windows and Mac offerings. Windows has had the drop-down favorites menu, but never allowed enough room on the toolbar itself. Macs have enjoyed a dedicated space that spanned the browser window for their favorites, but never had the drop-down for additional entries. Now, with Internet Explorer 5, Mac users have the best of both worlds.

Explorer Tabs: The Explorer Tabs have also received a much needed overhaul. Designers often complained that the tabs, when active, could overlap parts of their web page design. Sometimes designers would go so far as to compensate for the intruding Explorer Bar with page layout adjustments. Internet Explorer 5 for the Mac has changed all of that. The tabs have been redesigned and are now confined within the stylish Explorer Bar. Not only does this redesign look better, it saves precious screen real estate.

Figure 3: The redesigned Explorer Bar with full Toolbar above. spacer Figure 4: Explorer Bar with collapsed Toolbar
Figure 3. The redesigned Explorer Bar with full Toolbar above. spacer Figure 4. Explorer Bar with collapsed Toolbar via the aqua arrow above the "Favorites" tab.

Figure 5: The Explorer Bar from Internet Explorer 4.5.
Figure 5. The Explorer Bar from Internet Explorer 4.5.

But it gets even better. The Explorer Bar an innovative "collapsible toolbar" arrow that hides all of the top toolbars (for maximum viewing space) but adds the four most common browser controls (Back, Forward, Stop, and Reload) to the Explorer Bar itself. Just hit the little "collapse" button just below your toolbars, and they'll go away, leaving the entire browser window to show Web pages. The collapsed view takes some getting used to, but browsing in this mode quickly becomes addictive.

Custom Toolbars: So you're not impressed with the default toolbar set-up? Choose "Customize Toolbar" to drag and drop components on and off the bar. It's very easy and a terrific way to personalize the browser's look and feel.

AutoComplete: Another easy way to get around related pages is with the new AutoComplete popup. Let's say you want to visit a resource from the W3C web site. You start typing the address, and as the browser recognizes it, a popup menu appears beneath the Address input. This popup is a fully scrollable menu, so you can move through it to find the exact URL you want. Fortunately, the popup also shows an abbreviated page title along with the URL, so it's easy to grab what you seek without having to memorize a complete URL.

Interface Detractions

Of course, some things got dropped or changed. For example, the "Open Location..." function has changed from the old Command-L to Command-Option-L. You can also get to it by holding down the option key and selecting 'Open Location...' in the File menu. If you don't hold down the option key, then the focus switches to the Address toolbar of the front-most window. If you have the Address toolbar hidden, it gets unhidden until you enter a new location, at which point it re-hides. (The same thing happens if you just hit Command-L.)"

Apparently gone is the "Download File..." feature, which was a way to directly request a file download without opening a browser window first. This could be handy for saving files like QuickTime movies, directly to the hard drive instead of in the browser window itself.

AutoFill (a handy way to speed through registration forms) has a new keyboard shortcut, since its old shortcut (Command-+) got taken over by a new feature called Text Zoom -- but at least it's still around.

On page two we take a look at some of Internet Explorer's new features including the innovative Scrapbook.

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