The single most important step toward making Internet Explorer a usable piece of software

PC owners were mostly pleased to learn Microsoft will release an updated version of Windows 8 in the near future. Windows 8 has – I’d have to say, somewhat deservedly – garnered a certain amount of criticism (that’s an understatement), and the coming Windows 8.1 promises to fix some of the operating system’s most-critical issues.

I’m personally excited about the development not because I particularly miss the Start button, but because 8.1 will hopefully address one enormous shortcoming of the operating system as it currently exists. Particularly, it will be packaged with the newest version of Internet Explorer, 11.0. Microsoft’s apparently also excited — so excited, it released this video touting the upcoming release:

Alright, Microsoft ad team — I get it, but I got it about 20 seconds in. Watching this video just to make sure I wasn’t missing anything at the end made me want to spray lye in my eyes to make the bad grass stop.

And assuming the efficacy and value of the “Lawnmark test” — even after googling binging it, I still can’t decide if it’s purely or only partially a gag — I have to say, having used IE 10, there are some other issues Microsoft would do well to concentrate on fixing before it addressed the browser’s HTML 5 rendering capabilities.

If you, like most Americans, haven’t explored Internet Explorer in many moons, you might feel vindicated to hear of just a few of my fun experiences trying out IE 10 over the past month (I’ve been avoiding Chrome because I have too many tabs open and I’m not ready to deal with them yet) [Editor’s note: The incomplete list is here mostly for catharsis. If you’re just curious about the single most-important step, and don’t want to actually read my ninety-five theses, just skip past the bullet holes.]:

  • Like all browsers (specifically, Chrome and Mozilla), IE comes with an option to start every session with the same tabs that were open when the browser was last closed. Even though I went into Options and selected this box, it works only sporadically, and on more than one occasion, I’ve had to dig through my history in a desperate attempt to figure out which specific pages I want to re-open. I’ve learned my lesson: if I want to keep a tab around, I’ve gotta email myself the url before shutting things down.
  • Conversely, there comes a time when every tab must be settled (i.e. closed), but IE does its best to make this impossible. Multiple times a day, I find myself engaged in a game of whack-a-window — I close a tab only to discover it has automatically opened a new browser window, and another, and another, and another. And as you close those windows, they open further new ones up in turn. The eventual result is that IE crashes, which can lead to one of two outcomes. One, IE “forgets” which tabs were open (see above).
  • Two: IE does remember which tabs you had open — but still manages to make the experience of restoring them as unpleasant as possible. Specifically, it will open up the correct number of tabs, but attach a weird prefix to the beginning of every url that prevents the page from actually loading: url fail Just look at that url. And now imagine it across a dozen different re-opened tabs — and the only way to actually coax IE back to its pre-crash state is to manually go through each tab, delete the prefix, and reload the tab a second time in an effort to actually reclaim it.
  • Even when IE isn’t busy crashing, some websites just won’t work. Pages I would otherwise visit frequently include Twitter, Feedly, and the WordPress dashboard. If I want to use any of them, I usually have to head elsewhere.
  • Even when websites do fully load — and this complaint is the weirdest and most unexplainable of them all — they sometimes come out looking like this [you’re gonna have to click to embiggen to get the full effect]:ExplorerThe text-garbling just starts for no discernible reason, affects all open tabs, and the only way to get IE to work again is to close it and try reopening it every 10 minutes or so.
  • When it comes to pop-ups, IE is at an awkward party all by itself: it just never knows how to respond to the social situation. When I visit a website that exists only to serve pop-up advertisements like Jerusalem Post, IE doesn’t hesitate to open three, four, or even five annoying new windows. But when I’m on Facebook and click on a link hoping it will just open in a new tab, IE forces me to first allow pop-ups. I promise, JPost never asked me for permission.

Addressing all these problems certainly sounds like a daunting task. So what’s “the single most important step” Microsoft could take to make Internet Explorer usable?

Easy: I suspect all of the above bugs are related to a single root problem. None of these defects were evident when I first got my new computer (with IE 10 pre-installed), nor did they all arrive at once. Instead, they’ve popped up one-by-one over time and made themselves at home. Typically, when programs develop crippling, sudden-onset, unexplainable glitches, the fix isn’t magic or mumbo jumbo, argle bargle. It’s simple and obvious: uninstall and then reinstall them.

But Internet Explorer isn’t just another program on your PC; instead, it’s baked deep into the operating system. And so you can’t uninstall and reinstall it like you can Chrome or Oregon Trail or StarCraft or Civilization II or Civilization IV. You can only turn it “on or off”:

Windows on or off

And no matter how hard I try to scrub my system of IE 10 so I can reinstall it with a fresh start and without all the bugs, it always rises from the dead exactly how I left it. The end result is that anytime something goes wrong, you’re stuck with a flawed browser no mortal man could hope to ever fix: Internet Explorer.

More than any other single change, the biggest improvement I hope to see for Internet Explorer 11 is the ability to actually uninstall it. Antitrust case notwithstanding, I’m not getting my hopes up.

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