Internet Explorer 6 on 6.1: What you need to know

(Ed Note: Malatesta, who has used IE6 on the Sprint Treo Pro, chimes in with his thoughts on the recent question of what it means that it comes on the CDMA Treo Pro on WM 6.1 but no upgrade path will be available for others.  I have just received a review unit of the Sprint Treo Pro which may include some improvements over the original ROM - stay tuned for that. In the meantime, Mal tells us "what we need to know" and it's not what you might expect. --Dieter)

Microsoft has revealed details on the much-hyped Internet Explorer Mobile 6 (IEM6), which is also making its official debut within the next 2 weeks with the Sprint Treo Pro (no word on Alltel’s version).

To recap what we know and has happened so far with IE6, lets go down memory lane:

Yes folks, that was one year in the making for what is arguable a very marginal update. Now in fairness to Microsoft, there are actually a ton of changes to the internal code of IEM6. But for the end-user, it remains to be seen if these changes are significant.

Read on to catch up on Microsoft's latest browser and our hands-on opinion!


The big news of course is the incorporation of Adobe’s Flash Lite 3.1 into the browser. Finally you can now go to Mobile YouTube and watch embedded videos right in your browser (see it in action above). Having used IEM6 when I had the Sprint Treo Pro, I can tell you this feature for is actually a lot of fun and it works very well.

However, not all Flash sites work so hot with the new browser. In fact, some don’t work at all (error: your version of Flash Lite is not compatible) or when it does work, it is scaled so huge as to not be viewable nor manageable (over at Ruotsalainen’s excellent blog, you can see his results from various streaming sites—not pretty).

Some other additions were H.264, Website Meta language support, better “touch optimized” navigation, AJAX and noticeably absent from the final version, no Silverlight support.

Oh, did we also mention the mouse cursor? IEM6 is now like Skyfire: you have a mouse cursor to move over the screen as opposed to the older “link hopping” option, which is now gone. Ugh.

The other big news was the announcement by MS back on November that an upgrade-path to IEM6 will NOT be happening for a few reasons, including the need for a 400 mhz-plus processor, certain memory requirements and the unwieldy installation just did not make a simple .cab file installation possible. That is why people have had to “cook” a version into ROM in order to use it.

Now comes word from MS that it basically “refreshed” WM6.1 with a new AKU build (v1.4; older WM6.1 was basically AKU 1.0) to accommodate their new browser. (There are some other notable changes in AKU 1.4 not related to the browser, like changes in the Outlook menu system, too.)

Personal Experience: Careful what you ask for

As previously mentioned, I had the opportunity to use IEM6 for 30 days. Full disclosure: I actually really like using IEM5 on my previous devices for viewing mobile sites—it’s right quick and doesn’t take too long to load (for full sites, I prefer Opera Mini or Skyfire), so I’m not hater on IEM.

Having said that, IEM6 is flat out terrible mostly for UI reasons but also for slow performance ones too. For one, they abandoned the “single column” view whereby the browser stacks everything so only scrolling vertically is required. With IEM6 you pretty much have to scroll vertically and horizontally no matter what the site, including mobile-formatted ones.

No surprise, it is also slower to load, what with having to load Flash Lite 3.1 every time. Actual speed of rendering was not noticeably different and a real pet peeve: when you hit “Stop” it doesn’t actually stop the page from loading, at least not within a realistic amount of time. The browser still hangs and chokes on large sites and the overall feels is just worse in comparison to IEM5 (though the new download screen is a bit nicer).

Sure Mobile YouTube works well, but honestly there are much better solutions for streaming that or any other sites (e.g. Kinoma Play, Core Player) and unless you are a YouTube nut, it’s just not a big deal. In short, streaming Flash is still a pain and not at all an enjoyable experience.

I’ll leave the final word on this with Ruotsalainen, who said this about IEM6 recently:

“…the current IEM6 version is simply not worth bothering with - it's definitely slower and, configurability-wise (see the lack of One Column mode or the lack of the, on (W)VGA devices, highly useful Use High Resolution switch), far less capable than the previous IEM.”

In conclusion, perhaps in WM6.5 IEM6 (which is a newer build) will perform and be much better than the current version, in fact we can give them the benefit of the doubt (see a video of it in action here). But if you are pining over the current IEM6, in short don’t. It’s not very good and I’m happy to be back to the older version.

Sorry, Microsoft.

Dieter Bohn