What a difference a day makes. Where yesterday’s MIX 2009 keynote with Bill Buxton and Scott Guthrie dropped almost too much information on the audience, today’s keynote was much more balanced, focusing on a particular browser and a great story about good design making a positive change in the world.
Dean Hachamovich and Internet Explorer 8
The keynote this morning kicked off with Dean Hachamovich announcing the RTW of Internet Explorer 8. This has been a greatly anticipated release of Microsoft’s new browser since it was officially shown to the world for the first time at MIX last year (has it really been a year already?!?). To be perfect honest, my reaction to IE8’s launch has been pretty much, “Meh.” But after what I saw this morning, I am actually really looking forward to installing the released version. Here are some of the highlights from Dean’s portion of the keynote:
- The new browser can be downloaded manually from microsoft.com/ie8. It will also be available via Windows Update as an optional install. The really great news is that Dean said the final release bits will be available for those of us running Windows 7 beta via Windows Update as well. Supported operating systems include Windows XP, Vista and Windows Server.
- The majority of the the new features in IE8 were driven directly by customer feedback about how they use the web. Using customer feedback to drive product enhancements is not unusual for Microsoft, but you can see a definite focus on making IE8 intuitive and easy to use for everybody. Some of the enhancements include:
- Both the address and search fields provide comprehensive historical information as well as informational suggestions to get the user more information about the content they’re interested in.
- The tabbed browsing experience has been enhanced through color coding. As a page opens pages in new tabs, the main tab and additional tabs share a common color, helping the user more easily keep track of the information they’re working with.
- Pages in different tabs run in their own, isolated space. This keeps a fatal error on one page from taking the entire browser, and thus, other pages down.
- IE8 is the most secure browser Microsoft has ever released, and if the information Dean presented this morning is to be believed, it is the safest browser on the market today. A white paper on browser security that provide more details can be found at NSS Labs.
- There are also some very cool developer features as well, including:
- Full support of the CSS 2.1 specification
- A comprehensive rendering test suite with the W3C organization consisting of 7,000+ tests, many of which show IE8 to implement web standards better that other browsers.
- Web Slices: These are mini applications that drop a button in the browser under the address window and bring content and web applications directly to the user without them having to navigate to the primary web site.
- Accelerators: When highlighting content in a web page, a smart tag of sorts pops up providing several interesting options, including getting a map relative to the content, searching for more information on the content and even translating the content into another language.
Deborah Adler and ClearRx
When the launch of IE8 was complete, Bill Buxton returned to the stage to introduce Deborah Adler. Deborah is a graphic designer who used a near tragedy in her family to make an extremely positive change for people.
Deborah told the story of how one evening several years ago, her grandmother accidently took her grandfather’s prescription medication and nearly died. Deborah realized that the reason this incident happened is because both her grandparents were on the same medication, but they were on different doses, and the prescription medication bottles used by all pharmacies at the time are extremely difficult to read and understand. Her grandmother was lucky. Unfortunately, many people die each year by taking taking their prescription medication incorrectly or accidently taking the wrong medication.
As part of her Master’s thesis, Deborah setout to use her design skills to make a prescription medicine bottle that would help avoid these incidents from happening again. I won’t recount the whole story because it’s already been told in detail elsewhere.
However, Deborah’s talk was very thought provoking because, ultimately, what she did wasn’t beyond what most of us are capable of doing. She simply identified something that was obviously wrong, looked at practical ways to to address the issue through better design and found a company that was willing to help her bring her vision to life, that company being Target and the ultimate product being the ClearRx prescription bottles used at their pharmacies.
As software professionals, we see poor design everyday and choose to live with it, choose to accept it. I enjoyed Deborah’s talk because it inspired me to look at software I use all the time and try to find better, more intuitive ways to enhance it. I don’t think I will ever save lives like Deborah did with her design, but all of us can clearly have a positive impact on our users’ daily lives by developing technology that actually helps them do their jobs better.
So that wraps it up for the MIX keynotes this year. Of course, MIX is still going on and we’re all working through what all the new technology we’ve seen over the past couple of days means to us. I’ve personally had several really interesting conversations with people about Silverlight 3, but I am absolutely stoked about Expression Blend 3. I’m working on getting the bits downloaded so I can start building some Silverlight applications. Of course, everything I learn will eventually end up here, so stay tuned.