Tags: internet explorer

Windows 8, LE1700, Surface and other tablet thoughts

As regular readers will know I'm a long-time Tablet PC user - my most recent purchase however was years back. That was an old Motion LE1700. One of the early ones, with a 1.2Ghz Core Solo processor. I've held off since, as low-resolution screens have dominated the market, and I don't see the point in upgrading to downgrade my screen.

Launched early 2006 it originally shipped with Windows XP Tablet Edition. But I promptly upgraded it to Windows Vista. There were two major improvements it brought, first was the ability of the handwriting recognition engine to learn, the second was pen flicks - probably the single most important innovation for making Tablet PC use faster and easier.

Instead of grabbing the scroll bar, or using the D-pad - which isn't always under your thumb or fingers you could just flick a page up and down, and it would scroll, flicking left and right would move forward and backwards. This worked across Explorer, Internet Explorer heck pretty much everything. You could even set it to use diagonal flicks to do things like copy, paste, delete etc.

Windows 7 brought some performance improvements, but it was clear the Windows and IE teams were no longer interested in focusing on these active-digitiser based tablets, despite me hassling the IE team for years, pen flicks were never fixed in Internet Explorer, they've been broken in three major versions now. Other browsers never properly supported the input panel, and/or pen flicks so were difficult to use compared to Windows Vista and IE7.

Windows 8 continues that tradition - and makes it worse in some regards. You no longer get a hovering input panel when the pen is focused on a field to enter text, you need to manually open the keyboard. Like Windows XP pre-SP2. Nasty. However in the new modern environment you always have a keyboard open up. Sweet. Now if only that worked on the desktop.

Other than the tablet features of Windows retreating - making using Windows 8 on the desktop in many ways like the original Tablet Edition of Windows. Windows 8 actually runs quite well. The new modern-environment largely works OK, bar having to use the scroll bars to scroll around rather than flicking - there's a few performance issues with some of the games but it is quite useable. More so than Windows 7 was in my opinion.

There's a few other issues with Windows 8 - Internet Explorer renders text in a sort of half-assed approach, rather than proper ClearType. I don't think it is using sub-pixel positioning, in the desktop or modern environments. This makes some fonts, especially ones designed for ClearType like Segoe look pretty bad. You might argue that's less important since screens are finally starting to increase in DPI - but tell that to my desktop screens - that aren't, and have maxed out the resolution of DVI/HDMI.

The earlier issues I've mentioned like a pegged-CPU in the earlier builds are now fixed - at least after connecting to Windows Update.

But I'm still at two minds what to do. The plan is to buy an ARM based Surface when they're available in October, as a stop-gap as they're pretty low-resolution and don't have an active-digitiser. Then an x86-64 one when they're available 3 months later. The x86-64 ones have 1920x1080 screens, so will do my fine on the resolution front and they have a pen for the times when I don't want to get the screen grubby.

Do I wanna go back to Windows Vista on the LE1700? Undoubtedly the best old-school Tablet PC OS? Or buy Windows 8 since it'll be dirt cheap and leave that on there.

Hrmmm.

Windows "8" on an old school Tablet PC

Long term readers will know I've long been a fan of the Tablet PC. Having owned two and certainly would have owned a few more if the budget had been more favourable. My first was a Toshiba Portege M200, and my most recent has been a Motion Computing LE1700. Windows XP SP2 was really great at making a PC usable with a pen. Windows Vista took that a step further and really developed a lot of the things we take for granted today, a handwriting recognition engine that learns and of course pen flicks. Enabling you to make quick gestures to scroll up and down a page, or navigate back and forward, among others.

Windows 7 however - bar slightly better performance on low end systems - took a massive step backwards with Internet Explorer 8. Pen flicks which by then we had all grown to love broke, badly. Scrolling up and down just didn't work in IE8 when using standards modes, that remained the case with IE9 despite me almost constantly hassling the IE team over it. You had to move over and grab the scroll bar. Urrggh.

Now however with the "touch-first" focus on Windows 8. I'm pleased to say pen flicks work properly in Internet Explorer 10, and it has really brought new life back to my LE1700. Unfortunately neither of my tablets support hardware accelerated graphics in Internet Explorer - so many of the Metro style apps run with near-unusable performance if they run at all, the LE1700 only has an Intel 845 which only ever supported WDDM 1.0. But at least we've got a browser that works properly again on Tablets (before Firefox or Chrome fanboys start, neither of those have ever worked properly on Tablets).

I've got one of the lower-end original LE1700s, Core Solo @ 1.2Ghz w/ 2GB of RAM. But it has the higher resolution 1440x1050 screen. Day to day operations work great, like they did on Windows 7. Start up time is much faster and having a picture password is a welcome improvement, and in many ways works faster than the finger-print reader.

However out of the box I ran into an issue where the CPU was being pegged at 100% by NT Kernel & System, which I successfully tracked down to be an issue with the "Standard Enhanced PCI to USB Host" driver - which I've now disabled. The classic desktop stuff works as great as it ever has, and better in many ways. Not having to go all the way down into a corner to get at the Start menu is a nice feature since my pen lives in my right hand often at the right-side of the screen.

There are consistency issues and general usability issues with the new Metro UI however. It isn't possibly to scroll the Start screen by dragging with the pen at all, nor by flicking the pen. In fact flicking left and right actually moves the currently selected tile. You have to use the scroll-bar instead. Kind of annoying, but then some applications behave differently, some you can click and drag, while others you can hold the right-button to bring up the scroll functionality, and some you just can't seem to move at all without the arrow keys or page up or page down. This is an area I hope they'll be looking at. As it is kind of a breaking deal if you're using an active-digitiser based tablet, although I understand that isn't exactly the key market they're after any more.

Internet Explorer 9 - fastest browser on mobiles too

Internet Explorer 9 came out a few weeks ago, if you're not using it. I'd recommend it. Especially people who are still using Firefox. It is well documented as the fastest browser out there. Not just in javascript speed, but also important areas like start time, and page rendering.

With the update to Windows Phone coming later this year, Internet Explorer 9 will be included. With it comes all the HTML5, and hardware acceleration that IE9 brought to Windows, but now in your pocket.

Here's a video to give you an idea:

To sum up, Internet Explorer 9 on Windows Phone renders at 23 fps, Chrome comes in at 11 fps on Android, and Safari on an iPhone 4 comes in at a dismal 2 fps.

Google sinking faster than Internet Explorer

The technology press continue to amuse me, long have they spouted the myth about the death of Internet Explorer. They always tout the gradual erosion in the usage share of Internet Explorer, a few years ago we'd see articles every month about how usage share has declined.

Today Internet Explorer remains healthy with 56.77% (according to Net Applications). Over the last year it had four months of growth, but overall is down 4.81%. Coincidently the tech press' old darling Firefox lost 2.47% share during the same period, losing 11% of its users, compared to Internet Explorer that only lost 8% of its users.

But how is Google, the darling of the technology press doing in its core business of search?

Using the same logic that the press apply to Internet Explorer, Google Search is far beyond a sinking ship, its a shipwreck that's on fire and is about to explode.

Google have dropped from 74.5% marketshare last year to 65% this year (According to Compete). Google managed to shed 9.5% share to its main rival Bing. With numbers like that more than 12% of Google's users in the last year have moved over to Bing.

That's double the marketshare that Internet Explorer lost in the same period.

Yet we don't hear a peep about this.

Of course Internet Explorer isn't really a sinking ship, Internet Explorer 8 was the fastest growing browser ever, and version 9 not only offers fantastic HTML5 support, it is also the fastest browser on the planet. Nor is Google Search a shipwreck on fire about to explode, I actually use it for most of my complicated search queries, because it handles them better than Bing, which is better at more mainstream stuff.

The point of this post has simply been to highlight the hypocrisy in the technology press. They can't call Internet Explorer a disaster, and cite losing 5% marketshare without calling Google Search an even bigger disaster.

Controlling how IE9 renders pages

With Internet Explorer 9 Microsoft have made some changes to how it renders which end-users may find noticable. Previously in Internet Explorer 7 and 8 it didn't matter, nor was detectable to an end-user if IE was rendering a page in quirks mode or in standards mode.

Internet Explorer 9 however has removed the 2 pixel border that previously versions of Internet Explorer had.

IE9 rendering a page as IE8IE9 rendering a page in standards mode

On the left IE9 is rendering a page as IE8 would. As such the border is included to maintain compatibility. However on the right we can see IE9 rendering a page by default, with no border.

Web developers can control how Internet Explorer renders a page using the Doctype and also the X-UA-Compatible tag.

The Doctype is probably the most common way. No DocType, Internet Explorer will render a page as IE6 would, dubbed quirks mode. This will result in the 2 pixel border around your website.

Using a Doctype such as the new HTML5 one <!DOCTYPE html>, or one of the XHTML or HTML ones should work fine.

Alternatively you can also use the X-UA-Compatible tag in the page's header. This has the added advantage of removing the compatibility button. If you're confident a webpage will be correctly displayed to a visitor, why pollute thier screen with an option that isn't needed.

You can use <meta http-equiv="X-UA-Compatible" content="IE=9" /> to remove the button. IE7, 8 and 9 will all render the page as close to standards as they can. However if IE10 was released, it would switch to compatibility mode for IE9. You can get around this by specifying "edge" instead of a version number.

Subscribing to an RSS feed in Internet Explorer 9

With Microsoft about to unveil the release candidate of Internet Explorer 9, I thought I should take some time to cover probably the only regression that will impact a lot of people. Before I start, I'd like to make myself clear that this regression is worth the massive improvements that Internet Explorer 9 brings across the board.

As you may have guessed from the title, it surrounds subscribing to RSS feeds. With the new slimmed down, and to the point IE, the RSS subscription button is no longer displayed by default. It's hidden in the optional command bar.

In many cases this isn't a problem, click on a link to the RSS feed on a webpage and Internet Explorer will open it in feed view, where you can easily subscribe to it anyway.

The problem comes from websites that don't actually give you a link to their RSS feeds on the page. Typically they would expect you to click on a web browsers feed button to view it, with it no longer displayed in IE9, that may be a tad annoying.

The other problem comes from websites that use services like Feedburner, when they detect a web browser, rather than a feed client display it in a "friendly" view, which makes IE9, and other browsers think it is actually a website, and hence does not enable feed view mode.

There are two quick and simple workarounds for this.

The fastest in my opinion is to hit ALT to open the traditional style menu, click Tools and make your way down to Feed discovery, accessing any feed listed there will display it in feed mode.

Subscribing to an RSS feed in Internet Explorer 9

Alternatively you can turn on the command bar, which can be done by right-clicking on an empty area of IE9's user interface, an empty area next to a tab for example, and choosing Command bar from the menu. That'll turn the command bar, with the Home, Feed, Print, Page, Tools options that IE has had for the last two versions.

Subscribing to an RSS feed in Internet Explorer 9

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