SAN FRANCISCO, Jan. 5, 2000 — It was late in the development cycle. All the code had been written for the new features in Microsoft Internet Explorer 5 Macintosh Edition. Except for testing and the inevitable refinements, the browser the development team saw before them was the same browser customers would see in a few months. It featured a new rendering engine that provided the industry’s best support for Web standards, a redesigned interface that — with its corrugated, semitranslucent background and designer colors — was an unabashed tribute to the iMac, and a host of other new features. The product seemed to meet the team’s design goals to provide unparalleled speed, reliability and simplicity. But there was one problem: Dan McGillicuddy wasn’t satisfied.
McGillicuddy, a program manager for the team, looked at the feature set and reluctantly told his colleagues it just wasn’t compelling enough to be, hands down, the best Mac browser. The new browser’s features had been exceptional just seven months before, when development work began. But the browser lacked leading-edge support for one of the hottest Internet trends that had sprung up from nowhere in the intervening few months — online auctions. How could Microsoft claim the new browser simplified the Web by helping people track the information they wanted if it lacked support for online auctions?
Software development lead Steve Falkenburg sprang into action, attacking the difficult task of identifying features that would give online auction fans unprecedented support for e-bidding. What exactly would auction fans find of greatest help? Fortunately, Falkenburg didn’t have to search far for the answer. Development lead Tantek Celik, who had been working tirelessly on the team to develop the browser’s new rendering engine, turned out to be an online auction junkie. His contribution was the insight that all the steps of tracking an auction, such as noting competing bids and watching for the auction’s close, were just part of the process. The other part was contacting the seller, arranging for payment and ensuring customers’ new knick-knacks arrived when and as advertised.
Complicating the task of providing online auction support was the fact that the various online auction sites, such as Yahoo, eBay and Amazon, were different. Getting them all to adopt code that could be put into Internet Explorer wasn’t practical, but working with the common denominator features of all the auction sites was. Internet Explorer 4.5, the previous Macintosh Web browser, had set a new standard with
a unique Web feature that, with one click, automated the process of filling out the growing number of forms people encounter online. Using Forms AutoFill as a base, Falkenburg developed new algorithms that automatically identify and track the standard features of every auction site — such as item title, high bids, closing times and the seller’s name — presenting users for the first time with a single interface that manages information for all online auctions they participate in. A viable prototype of Microsoft’s Auction Manager for Internet Explorer 5 Macintosh Edition was born in just a month, an incredibly short time for a major feature set.
Media Toolbar for Exploring a Broad Range of Internet Audio and Video
Another key feature in Internet Explorer 5 Macintosh Edition — one the development team points to as a standard-setter — is the Media Toolbar with support for QuickTime. Like the Auction Manager, the Media Toolbar is designed to give people features they don’t get anywhere else by offering a single, easy way, within the browser, to play MP3 streaming media as well as QuickTime and other audio formats. In the past, people needed to manage several distinct media players in addition to their browsers.
“The Media Toolbar is a jaw-dropping feature,”
says McGillicuddy, a musician in his off hours.
“It’s completely visual and intuitive and works exactly the way you’d expect an audio player to work. It’s really cool, with 10 graphic equalizers that show you the frequencies of the station you’re listening to, and giving you easy ways to manage your favorite stations. This is going to make it easy for people to explore the millions of places on the Web where they can find this music.”
Striving to Build the Fastest, Most Reliable Internet Explorer Yet
The most daunting design goal, and one that required the largest team effort, was to produce the fastest, most reliable Internet Explorer ever, says product unit manager Dick Craddock. The revamped rendering engine can take virtually any of the billions of Web pages on the Internet and display them exactly as their designers intended — regardless of whether those designers adhered to formal Web standards or built their Web pages using the multiple variations endemic to the Web.
“Providing 100 percent support for all the major Web standards — HTML 4, CSS 1, XML 1, DOM 1 — is a hard problem that requires mastering a huge amount of code; maybe that’s why no one else has done it,”
says Craddock, who oversees development, testing, marketing and program management for Internet Explorer 5 and other Microsoft products for the Mac.
“It’s super important for end users but something they don’t need to worry about. Users benefit from experiencing exactly what Web designers intended, and the Web designers benefit by not having to worry about how the browser’s going to function. They can author once to the Web and IE 5 will render it right.”
Celik, the development lead and online auction fan, was responsible for ensuring full compatibility with code already out on the Web as well as new standards formally endorsed by the industry’s standard-setting World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and rapidly being adopted by the Web community.
By starting with the existing Internet Explorer engine, Celik achieved compatibility with the HTML variants already on the Web. And, by virtually rewriting that engine, the development team also ensured full compatibility with the new standards. The result was
the new rendering engine at the core of Internet Explorer 5.
The key challenge was to meet all of the various requirements without producing a top-heavy, overly adorned Christmas tree of software code that would buckle under its own weight. To accomplish this goal, the team continually looked for common pieces and strove to eliminate redundancy. The result is a smaller, faster engine that meets new requirements for compatibility while achieving unprecedented levels of performance, Celik says.
“Our quality assurance team, which tracks thousands of real-world sites, was crucial for ensuring backward compatibility,”
“Our beta testers were crucial as well. This engine was field-tested by professionals in layout, typography, desktop publishing, online publishing, advertising, multimedia and more, all of whom spent months testing Tasman against their content and letting us know the results.”
The Largest Mac Team Outside of Apple
When Internet Explorer 5 Macintosh Edition debuts at MacWorld Expo this week, it will be the latest accomplishment for a team that’s been developing Macintosh software for as long as Apple has been building computers. Microsoft’s Macintosh development team is the largest such unit outside of Apple itself. And some Microsoft employees on the project — including Celik, Craddock and Falkenburg — worked at Apple earlier in their careers.
“Apple was my first job out of school, and I’ve stayed in the Mac industry ever since,”
“That’s true for lots of people in the Macintosh Business Unit here at Microsoft. We have a lot of dedicated, hard-core Mac programmers. We love the Mac and we’re really happy to be producing great Mac products.”