How are people going to get IE7?
According to Kevin Yank in a recent issue of the SitePoint Tech Times:
"Word on the street is that, upon its release (before year's end), IE7 will be pushed out as a forced update to Windows XP users everywhere, as was done for Service Pack 2. The move to IE7 among the end-user masses will not be a gradual migration, but a sudden and significant shift."
One night Windows XP users will go to bed using IE6 and the next morning they'll wake up, install a routine update, and just like that they'll be using IE7 to browse the web. That means, that as a site owner, you need to begin preparing immediately for IE7's impending release.
What's different about IE7?
From a user's perspective, improvements include tabbed browsing, better printing, RSS feed integration, more advanced searching, and better security features, as well as a plethora of add-ons to enhance the user experience (similar to Firefox extensions).
However, the most important changes that will have a more direct impact on how your site is loaded and displayed are:
* RSS integration IE7 automatically detects RSS feeds and asks you to subscribe. It also gives you the option to have IE7 auto-check for feed updates (even when it's not running). Is your feed properly recognized by IE7?
* Updated CSS behavior the IE7 team worked very closely with the W3C workgroup to ensure standards compliance. They made over 200 changes from IE6 to become compliant with CSS2.1. Even if your site is standards compliant, it may not be rendered exactly the same as it is in IE6 or Firefox.
* AJAX XMLHTTP Request changes the IE blog states: "to have your cross-browser AJAX work better with IE7, you really should be invoking the native XMLHttpRequest (the cross-browser one) first to see if its available before instantiating the ActiveX control, instead of the other way around."
* Added security features everything from more secure SSL defaults to disabling most Active X controls by default has been changed to help make the user's browsing experience more secure. These changes could drastically change your users browsing and purchasing experience.
You can get full details on all of the changes by visiting the IE Blog.
What should you do?
The only way to know for sure how your site will work in Internet Explorer 7 is to download it and try. The IE7 team recently released Internet Explorer 7 Release Candidate 1 (RC1), which can be downloaded on the Internet Explorer web site. I'd recommend downloading IE7 on a computer other than your primary machine (you still want IE6 on your primary machine at least until IE7 is officially launched). RC1 is essentially the final version of how IE7 will display sites when launched, so if your site passes the test now you'll likely be OK when IE7 is released for real.
In testing my sites there were a few instances where my site worked flawlessly in Firefox and IE6, but had small problems in IE7. The changes I needed to make were minimal, but regardless of how well you code there could still be some potential problems. It's better to find and fix them now than to wake up one morning and have hundreds of customer complaints!