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Why is IE7 different?

Paul English blogs a plausible theory about why Microsoft drastically changed the placement of controls in the IE7 tool bar:

…maybe Microsoft is trying to quickly (even if painfully) retrain its large market share to use control layout of IE7, so that when that mass-market first tries Firefox (and they will), they will find Firefox the one with the “odd layout”, and thus be more likely to stay with IE7

Is it a conspiracy or just canny marketing? And why is it so often so hard to tell those two apart?

If I had to guess — and I don’t have to but I’m going to anyway — I’d guess that Microsoft did usability studies that favored the new design (once we unlearn the old way, as Paul points out), and they were aware that it’s an opportunity to de-train us on the Firefox UI.

(Yes, someone could and probably has done a Firefox skin that makes it look like IE7. But Microsoft’s ploy — if that’s what it is — is aimed at people downloading the out-of-the-box version of Firefox.) [Tags: ]

4 Responses to “Why is IE7 different?”

  1. The conspiracy theory is plausible, IMO. But, the browser UI conventions we have now in Firefox and earlier browsers largely come from 1990s Mosaic and early Netscape Navigator.

    Mozilla does incredible and often innovative work, but user interface design is not a major area of their focus. So, it’s possible that someone could make the web browser “better” by making its UI “better.”

    Microsoft seems to be focusing on UI design more now than in the past, as I think they have come to terms with the fact that they’re losing ground to competitors who offer superior interface design / user experience (e.g., Zune vs iPod).

    Since IE 6 set a standard of stagnation in browser development, and we don’t tend to notice areas where Firefox’s design has stagnated, as much as we notice areas where Firefox is far outpacing the IE 6 standard.

    So, it’s interesting to imagine that IE 7 might set a higher standard that spurs on cool new stuff from Mozilla and Apple (Safari) as well.

  2. Ironically, I find myself in just the opposite situation that you describe: I use Firefox 90% of the time, and I’m finding that IE 7 is the pain in the butt instead! Since IE’s button placement isn’t matching up to FF’s, I find IE to be the hard one to work with. Once I went to FF, it would be hard to go back.

  3. at least they didn’t put a brown skin on it, like that iZune thing ;)

  4. Rich, I use Firefox all the time, and have to resort to IE7 maybe once every couple of weeks. And, like you, I find IE7 really hard to use now. But you and I aren’t the ones Microsoft has in mind, if indeed they are playing the game Paul English suggests. They’re after the IE user who looks into Firefox because they’ve heard it’s so much better.

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