New Internet Explorer “Developer Channel” gives devs a taste of what’s to come
Microsoft joins Google, Mozilla to give an ongoing look at upcoming versions.
Continuing its efforts to be more open and accessible, Microsoft today released the Internet Explorer Developer Channel: a version of Internet Explorer with preview versions of forthcoming features and capabilities.
Microsoft has released betas of Internet Explorer in the past, but these have always been tied to a specific future version of the browser. When that version of the browser is eventually released, the beta program is wound up and the beta browser stops being updated. Recently, these betas haven't even been fully fledged browsers, but rather barebone shells around the core rendering engine.
With the Developer Channel, Microsoft is aiming for something a little different. The Developer Channel isn't Internet Explorer 12 beta. The company's intent is to keep it updated as an ongoing project, and while the new engine features will generally find their way into the release version of the browser at some point down the line, Microsoft isn't pegging them to any specific version number.
This makes Internet Explorer's Developer Channel much closer in spirit to the Google Chrome's developer channel and Mozilla Firefox's Aurora builds. Microsoft hasn't yet detailed how the Developer Channel will be updated, whether those updates will be manual or automatic, or what the release frequency will be. If the company sticks to the pattern established by competing browsers, it'll be an automatic update every six weeks or so, though this too will be a break from the norms established by past Internet Explorer betas. They used manual updates and a much more variable schedule.
The first Developer Channel release offers preview support for a couple of new specifications: WebDriver and the Gamepad API. WebDriver is a standard for browser automation. It enables scripts to do things like click links, navigate around pages, and fill forms. The purpose of the API is to make Web content more amenable to automated testing; with WebDriver, developers can programmatically drive Web pages as if there were a real person sitting at the keyboard.
The Gamepad API does what its name would imply: it lets browser-based games support gamepad input. Microsoft has retrofitted some of its past Web content such as Escape from XP, Hover.IE, and Atari Arcade to support the Gamepad API.
The release also includes new WebGL capabilities taking the browser's conformance test score on the official Khronos WebGL Conformance Test up to 97 percent.
Again like the competing developer releases of other browsers—and unlike past Internet Explorer betas—the Internet Explorer Developer Channel includes various non-engine updates too. The F12 Developer Tools, already substantially upgraded in Internet Explorer 11, pick up a bunch of new features. These include user interface changes, such as new icons and keyboard shortcuts, and also functional changes: better autocomplete, attaching breakpoints to events, clearer visualization of the memory usage of objects in a page, and much more.
The new F12 tools include richer options for performance profiling scripts.
The Internet Explorer Developer Channel is compatible with both Windows 8.1 and Windows 7 with Internet Explorer 11. Behind the scenes, it uses Microsoft's App-V virtualization system to isolate the Developer Channel version from the rest of the system; as a result, it can't be made the default browser, and may not share extensions and other settings. Microsoft also warns that this can make the Developer Channel run a little slower than regular Internet Explorer.
The Developer Channel shows that Microsoft is continuing to change, and continuing to be less secretive and more involved with the community. It also suggests that the company is starting to develop its browser in a different way, with a development process much closer to that used by Google, Mozilla, and Opera.
The lack of version number, in particular, is important. Past updates to Internet Explorer 11 have already added (small) new features and improvements. The Internet Explorer of old would normally have made Web developers wait for the next major version before making these changes. It wouldn't be altogether surprising if some or all of the Developer Channel features were similarly rolled into Internet Explorer 11, and longer term, we might even see Microsoft making the Internet Explorer version number as unimportant as those of Chrome and Firefox.
Source: Ars Technica