Microsoft's IE Mobile Browser Needs a Makeover

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Internet Explorer Mobile (formerly known as Pocket Internet Explorer) has been on Windows Mobile devices for a long time now--and it shows. Based on a proprietary layout engine that Microsoft designed from scratch, the current Internet Explorer Mobile is one of the most underwhelming browsers available on smartphones today.

The main Internet Explorer Mobile interface presents an address bar at the top of the screen, together with a "Go" arrow and a drop-down menu with your most recently visited Web sites. Your preferred home page loads upon your launching the program.

Browsing with Internet Explorer Mobile requires a lot of scrolling around, and the page rendering is sometimes slower than acceptable. Left to right: 1. Mobile pages look fine on Internet Explorer Mobile. 2. Viewing modes accessible from the “Menu” button. 3. Not even Microsoft’s own page loads properly on the Windows Mobile browser. 4. Even in landscape mode the browser still shows only the corner of the page.
At the bottom are two contextual items: one button for going back to the previous page you visited, and a Menu button that gives you access to various functions of the browser.

Loading sites in Internet Explorer Mobile is similar to doing so in the Nokia browser. Upon your entering the URL you wish to visit, a loading-progress bar appears at the bottom of the screen. Then, if the Web site does not have a version optimized for Internet Explorer Mobile, you get the full-resolution corner of the loaded regular page.

You can select the area of a page to view by going to Menu, Zoom Out; the browser then shows you a thumbnail of the site and a rectangle for you to indicate the area. Once you're zoomed in, vertical and horizontal scroll bars appear, and you can flick through the page with the stylus or your finger.

Also accessible from the Menu button are different page-viewing modes (One Column, Fit To Screen, and Desktop); in my tests, however, none of them performed particularly well when I viewed a non-mobile-optimized Web site. You can also use the Zoom Level function to set the text size on a page, and a full-screen browsing mode is available as well.

Internet Explorer Mobile offers no adaptive zooming capabilities or tabbed-browsing functionality. Saving images from Internet Explorer Mobile is quite easy, though, as you just have to tap and hold your desired image and then press Save Image from the menu.

In a nutshell, browsing the Internet from a Windows Mobile device is cumbersome, and pages don't usually load the way they should. But Microsoft has acknowledged the weaknesses of Internet Explorer Mobile and has prepared a complete overhaul for its mobile browser.

This October, Microsoft will unveil a major upgrade to the Windows Mobile operating system. Internet Explorer Mobile on Windows Mobile 6.5 will be able to display a regular Web page so that it fits the width of your screen, and you can then click through areas of the page for zooming (without zoom animations, though, as on the iPhone). The rendering engine is supposedly improved, too, so most pages should display properly, although tabbed browsing still won't be present.

Internet Explorer Mobile will also feature a new, finger-friendly navigation menu at the bottom of the screen that will include a back/reload button, an action button, a keyboard menu, and a new zoom slider, similar to the one on the Nokia S60 touch browser. For now, however, the jury is still out on whether the upgrade will fix all of the browser's problems.

The first devices featuring Windows Mobile 6.5 with the improved Internet Explorer Mobile browser are due to arrive in October. They'll also have some limited Adobe Flash support, such as for watching videos on the mobile version of YouTube.

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