Microsoft Previews Internet Explorer 11 for Windows 7, Continues Trying to Woo Back IE Haters

IE is a good browser these days, but its maker is still trying to overcome its not-so-good reputation.

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In the browser wars, Internet Explorer has been following a strategy that’s radically different from those of Chrome and Firefox, but which makes eminent sense for Microsoft: Instead of being a browser that runs well on all sorts of platforms, it’s one that’s optimized for one operating system. That OS would be Windows.

And given that plenty of folks are taking their own sweet time to move to Windows 8 (which will soon be Windows 8.1), Microsoft isn’t abandoning Windows 7 users. This week, in fact, it released a preview version of a Windows 7 edition of Internet Explorer 11, Windows 8.1’s browser.

IE 11 for Windows 7 isn’t about new features so much as speed, speed, speed. According to Microsoft’s benchmarks, it’s 9 percent faster than Internet Explorer 10, and 30 percent faster than Chrome and Firefox. It achieves its performance in part by performing feats specifically tailored to Windows PCs, such as decoding JPEG images using the computing muscle of a PC’s graphics processor, so it doesn’t tax the main processor. Microsoft also says that you can comfortably open a hundred browser tabs and wander between them without undue lag.

As part of IE 11’s rollout, the company created a video — you can watch it the top of this post — which urges people to reconsider their relationship with Internet Explorer. It involves a woman-in-the-street interviewer talking with real people who express contempt for (or at least disinterest in) IE — until she shows them the new version.

For a while now, Microsoft has been making these videos that reference IE’s iffy reputation: here’s another one. And this one doesn’t so much say that IE has bad associations as that people haven’t thought about it much at all since the 1990s. It’s an astounding situation for a product that once came as close to 100 percent market share as any major piece of software ever has.

I’m fascinated by advertising that takes any sort of an negative tone about the product in question. (I think of it as Price & Pride syndrome, because it makes me think of a self-flagellating ad campaign that fallen grocery giant A&P ran when I was a kid.) If people do have negative associations with something, it might be cathartic for an ad to acknowledge it. But if you keep doing it forever, the message might not sound like “we’ve changed” so much as “people still don’t believe we’ve changed.” Which is why I find it fascinating that Domino’s is still running commercials criticizing its own food two and half years after the campaign started.

Note, however, that Microsoft isn’t exactly conceding that Internet Explorer was ever bad. It’s saying that a lot of people weren’t crazy about it at one point in the distant past and stopped using it, and therefore have outdated perceptions.

Which is perfectly accurate. Internet Explorer 6 — Windows XP’s original version — was dreadful, and it festered for years, getting more and more laughably out of date as Firefox got better and better. But IE 7 and IE 8, though not fabulous, were steps in the right direction. And Internet Explorer 9, which debuted in 2011, is a good, solid modern browser. Today’s IE might or might not be your favorite browser, but Microsoft has nothing to apologize for: It’s already successfully turned a marginal product into a nice one.

Bottom line: If you think IE still stinks, it’s your own fault, not Microsoft’s. So I hope that IE’s we-know-you-don’t-like-us ads don’t last that much longer. If they do, it might be time for somebody to stage an intervention.