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With a new browser war raging between Firefox 2 and Microsoft Internet Explorer 7, I was wondering who might come out as the winner. I’m not going to take the amount of downloads or users for this, nor the endless discussions over which browser the best is, into account.  Instead I’m going to try to determine in which manner the browsers are useful for/as a web developer. I’m going to focus on Internet Explorer 7 specifically, since we all know which goodies are available in Firefox. Microsoft has introduced some new things with the new IE that they have scrounged from other browsers, mainly from their strongest competitor – in casu Mozilla.

Still being part of it 
The first noticeable change is the search engine technology used – namely OpenSearch. It happens to be the same technology Mozilla based its search plugins for Firefox 2 on. This means that, give or take a few minor differences, a search plugin based upon this technology will be able to run on both MIE7 and FF2. More on this great news and how to make such a plugin can be found in my The beloved in sweet harmony web log. This isn’t the most important feature though, which in my opinion is the ability to add functionality to the browser via so called add on. This functionality, which has already been available in Firefox for a (long) while now, makes its debut in MIE from version 7 on. OK, there was a way to add things like the Google bar or the earlier mentioned web developer’s To cadge a thief (see more on this one later). The only problem was the (de)installation of these things. They were, in fact, nothing more than external programs with an interface which happened to be in MIE.  
All of this is, or better said should be, history. In practice there are some still leftovers from the old way of working. If you look at this add on manager you’ll still see some references to DLLs, registry items and stuff that has more to do with Windows than MIE. It becomes clear that Microsoft, despite having been given a rap over the knuckles several times, still sees their browser as an integral part of the operating system.  
   
Fiddler on the roof 
Having said this, don’t let me be a kill joy and let’s have a look at some Add-ons which can be very useful for the every day work of a (web) developer. The only thing you need to do is to go to this overview page and pick the interesting ones out. Here is the list that I’ve installed.

     

  • I’ve already reviewed this IE Developer toolbar in an earlier To cadge a thief. I wasn’t really satisfied with the toolbar at the time and I had hoped that things would have been improved by now. The problem is that it’s still in a beta stadium and I don’t know why things are taking so long. On top of that, it seems that it isn’t MIE 7 ready. First of all, once in a while the menu items of the toolbar vanish, and the only way to put them back on is to either restart the browser or to deactivate and reactivate the toolbar. Furthermore, it still lacks some features such as displaying/manipulating form data. Not a promising start to discover the add ins. Microsoft needs to have a closer look at this tool and make a good productive version of this urgently. Otherwise this toolbar won’t ever come close to the Developer toolbar by Chris Pederick , as discussed in an Letting the cat out of the bag web log.
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  • Fiddler is, despite also being from Microsoft, a more mature application. The tool allows you, in a very extended way, to view all http traffic, set breakpoints and inspect data. There is something wrong with the latter though. It doesn’t always seem to be willing to show the data submitted in forms. I could understand that it perhaps has problems with HTTPS, but why is Tamper Data for Firefox able to do this? Maybe it has something to do with the fact that Fiddler is also an external tool and is only able to capture data once the browser had been left. There is also another downside for these sorts of external applications – the tool won’t be automatically updated unless you start it, whereas a Firefox add-on will be updated when the browser starts. To sum up, it’s a good tool, but it would be better if it was integrated within the browser.  
    If you don’t mind paying, then IEWatch professional is more than worth consideration.
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  • Inline search is the spitting image- or should I say copycat – of the standard functionality within Firefox. Despite the occasional catch, it works just the same as its peer. Pity that it’s not a standard functionality.
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  • IESpell is a spelling checker for everything you need to add/edit online. It does what every good spelling checker needs to do, even in other languages. In all fairness, I did need to search for my own language file. The makers didn’t have any pointer to the *.dic files needed. I discovered in a forum that you need to Google for the dic files and more or less hope that the format is correct and that the dictionary is more or less complete. The only downside I could find is that it doesn’t do any ad hoc spelling checking like in Firefox.
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  • Other plugins worth mentioning, which I didn’t test out because I don’t have real life cases for testing them.
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The main ‘downside’ is that they are all payable. 

Conclusion 
I might be biased by the fact that I like Firefox very much, but I personally think that the initiative is good, but has still not been properly worked out. I (certainly) hope that there will be a growing community, providing more and better quality plugins in order that (web) developers have the same functionalities in MIE as they have within the Firefox plugin. It’s still not too late to achieve this. Microsoft can surely help by making sure that the Add on environment is better integrated within the browser. For the moment it looks more like a hastily knocked up appendage, which is a pity. There is more in it than what’s available today, both plugin as browser wise. But now Microsoft is planning to develop a CardSpace plug-in for Firefox.

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