Internet Explorer 10 interview: how Microsoft is bringing touch to the web

We find out how Windows 8 has influenced the browser and how touch interfaces could change the web

It's fair to say the internet and the way we use it has changed a lot since the early browser wars between Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator. While Microsoft may have won that battle and dominated the web with its proprietary ActiveX technology, things have moved on a lot. Today, it's all about open standards and accessing the internet through a wide range of devices.

To find out how Microsoft is approaching this more open world, we sat down with Ryan Gavin, general manager of Internet Explorer, and Rob Mauceri, group program manager of Internet Explorer, to find out what's different about Windows 8 and IE10.

A TOUCH EXPERIENCE

The main challenge with Windows 8 and IE10 was in bringing touch to the internet. This requirement was largely down to Windows 8's touchscreen interface, but was also driven by the uptake in touch devices, giving people an expectation of how interfaces should work. Microsoft's research also showed that regardless of the popularity of apps, the web was an incredibly important part of any touchscreen experience.

"Up to 50 per cent of tablet usage is spent on the web," said Gavin, "but the web is a second-class citizen."

By that statement, Microsoft means that although touchscreen devices have brought innovative new interfaces, tablet web browsers are largely just a copy of the desktop versions. In particular, tablet browsers render websites as though they were being displayed on a regular monitor, and add no extra touch features. Microsoft wanted to change that with IE10.

"Can the web be as fast, fluid and efficient as an app?" is the question Microsoft asked, Gavin told us.

In order to make websites to suit its vision, Microsoft had to ensure that developers had a set of tools to make their websites touch compatible and get developers to think about new user interfaces, so websites would work well with a touchscreen device.

Rather than creating proprietary technology, Microsoft wanted website touch support to be open to everyone to use.

"We built new APIs for touch events in the browser," said Mauceri. "We then took our touch APIs to the W3C Consortium and are working with companies, such as Apple, Google and Mozilla, to standardise pointer events."

NEW WEBSITES

A touch-enabled browser gives web developers a new box of tricks and lets them create new websites with different user interfaces. A good example of this is the game Contre Jour, which started life as an iOS app. However, it's now available to play for free in the browser, with touch support meaning it's the same to play on a touch-enabled web browser as it is on an iPhone or iPad.

Contre Jour

Touch-enabled games work in the same way as the dedicated app

Touch isn't necessarily about games and any website can add touch features. For example, with MSN on a touch browser, you can swipe to move to the next story. As with anything on the internet, the important that any site can work on any device, which is something that Microsoft feels it has achieved. All of its new technology means the touch components work as they would on a tablet, but the experience isn't broken if you have a computer with a standard display.

"It's what a consumer expects and it feels natural on a touchscreen device," said Mauceri. "You can still use a mouse and keyboard. It all works."

Modern browser techniques mean that websites have feature detection, so they can detect what a browser is capable of, as well as working out which operating system and device are being used. Feature detection means a website can show one version of the site for touch-enabled devices and another version for standard computers, where required.

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