IE7 add-ons -- a big zero
Another area where IE7 has serious shortcomings is with add-ons that give extra features to the browser. Firefox has an incredibly rich community of developers creating extensions, and IE has nothing that comes remotely close to it. For reasons we'll get into in a minute, that's not likely to change any time soon.
How to find IE add-ons? Select Tools > Manage Add-Ons > Find More Add-Ons, or else go straight to the Add-Ons for Internet Explorer site. Unfortunately, most of the add-ons you'll find aren't free.
Many add-ons to IE will cost you
(Click image to see larger view)
What's more, many of these so-called add-ons are not designed to work directly inside IE and integrate with the browser to give you a better browsing experience. In fact, a fair number of them have nothing really to do with IE, because they can work just as well with any competing browser or work as stand-alone programs by themselves. They are nothing like the extensions that integrate into Firefox to extend that browser's functionality.
Finally, as a general rule, any add-ons that are designed to integrate into IE have not been specifically designed for IE7. That means, for instance, that as of this writing, you won't find a single add-on that lets you customize the way IE7 tabs work.
Don't expect much to happen in the way of add-ons for IE7, at least for the foreseeable future. There are several reasons for this. A big one has to do with how add-ons are written. To write an add-on for Internet Explorer, you need to be a C programmer. To write an extension for Firefox, you only need to be able to write a script -- and there are far more people in the world capable of writing scripts than are capable of writing C code.
Microsoft is aware of the problem and says that it hopes to ultimately make it possible to author add-ons via scripting. But there's no timetable for this.
Beyond that is a cultural issue. There is a sizable community of people that believes in open-source as a movement and philosophy, but outside the confines of Microsoft, you won't find a similar community devoted to Microsoft. So you don't have people with the same fervor devoted to writing IE add-ons as you have writing Firefox extensions.
Microsoft doesn't seem to be doing anything to foster an add-on movement, either. The Firefox extension site, for example, is run by the Mozilla Foundation, which plays an integral role in the open-source movement. Microsoft's add-on site, meanwhile, isn't even completely run by Microsoft itself; it's a co-branded download library powered by CNET's Download.com.
The bottom line
IE7 is a clear and dramatic improvement over IE6; with tabbed browsing, increased security, excellent RSS support, better printing and a cleaner interface, it's a no-brainer to upgrade from IE6.
But this browser is far from perfect. Its use of tabs, for example, needs to be improved. In addition, Microsoft needs to change the way add-ons are created, so that it can foster a wider community of add-on writers as a way of building a thriving ecosystem of add-ons.
And Microsoft has to change its attitude toward the power user. Henry Ford famously said that his customers could buy a Model T "in any color, so long as it's black." Microsoft seems to have that same attitude in this version of Internet Explorer.
Microsoft officials say that the next version of Internet Explorer will be focused more on the power user. While they won't guarantee any specific features, they say that it will offer more customization overall, and they hope to allow for toolbar customization, the addition of themes and skins, and similar features. In fact, they say, Microsoft wanted to include those features in IE7, but simply ran out of time.
All in all, even if you're a power user, it's worth your while to upgrade to this browser for its increased security and considerable new features. Let's just hope that the next time around, you can deck out your browser in mauve polka dots if you want.
Editor's Note: Don't miss our accompanying Visual Tour of Internet Explorer 7.
• Martin McKeay: IE7 Vulnerability already? Not really
• IT Blogwatch: IE7 releases with vulnerability (and fun with resumes)
• Martin McKeay: Internet Explorer 7 Release Party
• Martin McKeay: What if I don't want IE7?
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