The Gruntwork - Internet Explorer 5.0: With Style, Finally? - Style Watch
Internet Explorer 5.0: With Style, Finally?
Almost every article on IE 5.0 that I found mentioned with great glee that it's free. I don't know what the fuss is about. Almost every popular browser has been more or less free for personal use since the birth of the Web. What nobody mentioned concerning the cost of obtaining and installing the browser is the infamous Active Setup process that has been around since version 4.0 and is, in my opinion, the worst, most idiotic, most frustrating and pointless thing ever to come out of Redmond, and that's no small achievement.
I know this isn't supposed to be a user-level review of the browser, but let me briefly explain just how much grief this infernal "Active Setup" gadget has caused me. First, let me explain what Active Setup does: When you want to install Internet Explorer, version 4.0 and upwards, you download a small (432k for 4.0, 470k for 5.0) executable file that you run. This will, I'm sure, fool many a naive newbie into believing that this is the smallest browser on the market, but all this program does is this: It asks you which components of Internet Explorer you want to download, connects to Microsoft's Web site and fetches a list of mirrors, and then FTP's the files off a mirror you select, optionally running a setup program which takes things from there.
First of all, how incredibly pointless is all of this? You have to go through the whole selecting-a-mirror process on Microsoft's Web site to get the install program anyway, so why do you need a separate program to do this for you? Second, why do I have to use Microsoft's Active Setup thingy when I have an FTP client that I'm very happy with? Microsoft will make you download a program that is half a megabyte long (no small thing for someone with a 28.8k modem like yours truly) just so you can do something any old Web browser can do already.
But that's not all. On numerous occasions I have spent literally days trying to download this or that version of Internet Explorer using this infernal widget with little or no success. The most often encountered scenario is that I select my local mirror (which is my ISP, which is a mirror of MSDownload, and has all the files, which I happen to know because I used to work there, and anyway I can use my plain old vanilla FTP client to connect to it and yes, you guessed it, the files are there). But most of the time, Active Setup will refuse to recognize the fact that the mirror even exists. Downloading from an overseas mirror is not an option since I can rarely get speeds larger that 0.5k/sec. When Active Setup (one day, out of its own volition), decided to offer my local mirror as an option, trying to download from there produced an error message along the lines of "Failed to obtain the necessary information for installation. The Internet is probably busy. Please try again later." The Internet is busy? My oh my, I've been on the Internet for seven years now and I never got a busy signal before. Must be one of those new technical terms. No information as to what might be wrong, no "Click here for more information" button, just the same thing over and over again.
And when I finally gave up and tried to download from overseas, the client promptly timed out after a while (usually about 20 minutes and about 100k transferred). Thankfully it offered me a chance to resume where I left off, but since Microsoft's little hack of an FTP client does not support resuming broken file transfers, and the download chunks are about 1.5 megabytes long, I ended up starting from the beginning again.
I cannot begin to explain to you the amount of frustration and hours of work that I have wasted on this Active Setup process. I have tried to hack around this demonic gadget from the Abyss by finding the file lists, downloading the files manually, trying to run the setup programs, fidgeting with settings in the Registry and whatever else I could think of, but the stupid thing refused to install the browser unless I did things its way. I ended up going over to said Internet provider and grovelling to former colleages in order to grab a copy of their install files for my own use. Needless to say this copy now resides on a Zip disk which I will guard with my life. I am never climbing that Golgotha again.
And I didn't even mention the install size, because while I was doing all of this I set aside 15 minutes to download the Mozilla Milestone 3 binary from my local mirror, which was (gasp!) in a Zip file on an FTP server, with a list of mirrors on the Mozilla Web Site. Now that's high technology for you. It must have taken the guys at Mozilla.org days to figure that one out. Not to mention that the entire browser (including mail, news, editing and all the rest) fits in a zip file 2.8Mb long.
I wouldn't whine about this mess so much if I hadn't read horror stories from countless other people from all over the world (including the US, which should theoretically be exempt from the bandwidth problems I have). The wonderful thing about FTP and SFX installers is that it can be made transparent to the user if it's given through a Web-based interface, just like it's done when you download the 470k installer. Why complicate things even more and cause countless problems when you change nothing?
Just a personal request to Microsoft: FTP is your friend. Just put the thing in a ZIP, CAB, SFX or whatever else you want and let us download it like the rest of the civilized world does. Thank you. Now, on with the good stuff.
Produced by Stephanos Piperoglou and
Created: April 7, 1999
Revised: Apr 30, 1999