Two Browsers, One Brain: Understanding Internet Explorer 10

 

How you view Internet Explorer 10 will depend greatly on how you view Windows 8 and its two separate user experiences. That’s because, like Windows 8 itself, Internet Explorer 10 offers two faces to the world: a full‑screen, Metro‑style version of the browser and a more traditional, desktop‑based version.

Let’s see what that means. In Figure 7‑1, you can see the Metro version of Internet Explorer, with its normally hidden application user interface (or chrome ) displayed for context. This version of IE offers a full‑screen, touch‑friendly, immersive user experience.

Figure 7‑1: The Metro‑style version of Internet Explorer 10

In Figure 7‑2, meanwhile, you see the desktop version of Internet Explorer 10. This looks and works much like previous IE versions and is tailored for the traditional desktop environment. It offers a richer feature set, with full support for add‑ons and browser extensions.

These two solutions are separate but also connected. That is, the Metro‑style app and the desktop application are indeed two different executables, or programs. But they utilize the same rendering engine under the hood, share numerous features and data, and, most confusingly, interact with each other, and with other browsers and the underlying OS, in brand‑new ways.

Figure 7‑2: The desktop version of Internet Explorer 10

 

While we tend to use the term app to describe Metro‑style solutions, and application for desktop solutions, this is just for convenience. Effectively speaking, both types of solutions are applications. (And, as it turns out, both are apps too!)

 

Microsoft describes these dual Internet Explorer applications as two different experiences, or skins, with one underlying browser engine. But that’s a bit of a stretch. In reality, Internet Explorer 10 acts as two distinct applications, and that becomes more evident when you configure Windows to use a different default browser (like Google Chrome).

As a result, it’s perhaps a bit fairer to say that Windows 8 offers two very different browser experiences, though each do share some underpinnings. Which one you use will depend very much on how you use Windows 8.

That is, if you find yourself using the Metro user experience a lot, perhaps because you’re using a touch‑based device like a tablet, you’ll probably want to stick with Internet Explorer for Metro. But if you are using a more traditional mouse‑ and keyboard‑based system, perhaps a desktop PC or laptop, the desktop version of Internet Explorer will be what you’re looking for.

Or maybe things aren’t so black and white. As it turns out, our devices, just like the OS they run, are changing. And as you read this, you could be using a tablet that docks and connects to a larger display and a keyboard and mouse, and other peripherals, while you’re sitting at a desk. Or perhaps you’ll opt for a hybrid laptop or Ultrabook that can work as both a traditional PC, with keyboard and mouse, or, with the flip of a screen, can be used like a tablet.

 

IE 10 Metro and IE 10 desktop also share many useful security features, such as SmartScreen and InPrivate Browsing.

 

With such devices, your usage will vary not by the device type–since these new kinds of PCs are so versatile–but rather by the situation. They can change on the fly, in fact, and you can move between the different Internet Explorer applications as your usage changes. And because these two applications share browsing history, typed addresses, settings, and more, moving back and forth is fairly seamless.

 

 

NOTE

IE 10 Metro and IE 10 desktop also share many (but not all) underpinning technologies, including hardware acceleration of web‑based text, graphics, video, and audio, and compiled JavaScript–you know, if you’re a web geek.

 

Another thing to consider, though this may be hard to believe: You may just end up liking Internet Explorer 10 Metro, and grow to prefer using it, even if you work mostly in the desktop environment. It can be said that the Metro version of Internet Explorer 10, with its chrome‑free user interface and full‑screen browsing experience, is like a gateway drug for the rest of Metro. It may, in fact, help convince you to ditch that aging desktop or laptop and head toward a more modern device with touch capabilities.

Either way, Internet Explorer 10 does offers what Microsoft loves to describe as a “no compromises” web browsing experience that works very well with both touch‑screen devices and desktop‑based machines, and also offers a way to move back and forth between them. Both experiences are available anywhere, from a powerful multi‑display desktop all the way down to a svelte, 7‑inch tablet.

But don’t decide now. In the coming sections, we’ll thoroughly examine the new Metro‑style version of Internet Explorer. (IE 10 for the desktop hasn’t changed much at all, from a user experience standpoint, since IE 9.) And then you can decide for yourself.

 








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