Internet Explorer 8 RC1 impressions

I didn't think the day would ever come, but it has: as of the RC1 build, Internet Explorer 8 appears to render TR pretty much flawlessly without IE-specific code enabled. That's quite a radical improvement over the beta 2 release that came out five short months ago.

Regulars will recall my successive rants about the first and second IE8 beta releases, in which the new "standards-compliant" rendering engine tripped and stumbled on every other website (including TR). I dreaded the prospect of having to pull up my sleeves and write workarounds for yet another IE release, and to my frustration, the IE team seemed busier implementing peripheral features than fixing rendering bugs.

Somehow, though, they've pulled it off. IE8 RC1 behaves just as well on TR as on CNN, Google Maps, YouTube, and Facebook. What impresses me most is that this release can take the exact same code I feed to Firefox, Safari, Google Chrome, and Opera without skipping a beat. In both IE7 and IE6, I'm forced to resort to a handful of browser-specific hacks to sidestep rendering bugs.

That said, IE8 might still be trailing Gecko and WebKit a little bit. While Firefox, Chrome, and IE8 all render the Acid2 test successfully, IE8 scores considerably lower in the Acid3 test. Even performance seems a little lackluster: in my Windows XP virtual machine, Chrome completed the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark almost four times quicker than IE8. I haven't tested the new release candidate on Vista, however, so I'll refrain from drawing any hasty conclusions.

What's important is that the IE team managed to produce a browser that's reasonably standards-compliant. That might not matter too much now, but it'll be a big deal in a few years when IE6 and IE7 market shares drop near zero. I expect a decent chunk of IE7 users will make the jump, too, since IE8 has a similar interface and works on the same versions of Windows, but it brings a (vast) number of neat new features. Hopefully, Microsoft will push out IE8 on Windows Update a few months after the browser goes gold.

Does IE8 have what it takes to replace Firefox, Chrome, and Opera in the hearts of enthusiasts? I don't believe so. However, IE8 now looks like a clear step up from IE7, and that's a good thing for the next major release of the most popular browser out there.

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