A common misconception is that you can interact with a touch enabled Windows 7 PC in exactly the same way as you do with a mouse and keyboard. Well, you CAN'T. If you keep thinking about how to interact with your Windows 7 PC via touch in exactly the same way as through traditional methods you'll run into a few problems which are likely caused by the fact that you are unable to do what you want to do via touch, and you're unfamiliar with the touch alternative to what you want to do.
So here's a little guide about how to browse effectively with Internet Explorer via touch ONLY. Before you continue be sure to read my "Optimizing your Windows 7 Touch Experience" guide to see how you can tweak your UI in general for a better touch experience first.
Why Internet Explorer?
So let's get the first question out of the way first, why is this guide targeted towards the browser which everyone hates? Primarily because it's the only browser that natively supports the Windows 7 touch PAN gestures. With the other browsers you need to install a plug in or extension to enable something that's similar to pan control but I never found one that I like.
But isn't IE Painfully Slow?
That's the typical question I get asked. My main Tablet PCs have all had very low end specifications, usually Intel Atom based, if it was slow and unbearable. That said, here are a few things you need to keep in mind if you want to have a good browsing experience.
If you're running an Intel Atom based system with only 1GB of RAM, be reasonable about what you're asking from the hardware. Don't open a dozen tabs each running one instance of a heavy Flash based Facebook game. Really doesn't make any difference whatever browser you use if you do that, it'd still slow to a grinding hault.
Disable Add Ons
One of the main reasons where IE can chug is because a lot of programs deem fit to install various explorer bar and other extensions into IE without asking the user, it is up to you to become acquainted with the Manage Add-Ons window.
And then select All Add-Ons in the window so you can show all the add ons registered in IE.
Disable anything that you have no idea what it is so you don't have any unwanted baggage slowing you down. To disable a plugin just select it in the list on the top right corner, then hit the disable button on the lower right corner. I call out the Skype Plug-In specifically because there was one version of it that was so buggy having it on totally destabilized the browser.
This tip again applies to pretty much any browser that supports extensions/plugins/watchamacallits, you should always know what plug ins you are not using and disable them.
Get Internet Explorer 9
As of this writing, the latest version of IE9 is the Release Candidate. The BETA version performed horribly on my Asus T101MT and had some very annoying UI tweaks that made using it via touch a very bad experience. The Release Candidate is showing much much better performance though. You can get the latest version of IE9 from www.beautyoftheweb.com
Update The Adobe Flash Plugin
After the IE9 Release Candidate was released, Adobe also released an update for Flash which listed Better IE9 Performance (something to that effect) as one of the fixes. I'd say… get the update regardless of what version you use. Get the latest player of Flash from Adobe here.
UI Tweaks And Tips For A Better Touch Experience
And now for some tweaks and tips so that Internet Explorer works a bit better with touch.
If you're not on IE9 Release Candidate Disable AutoComplete.
Go to your Internet Options and head for the Advanced tab, under the Browsing section of the list search for the option Use inline AutoComplete in the Internet Explorer Address Bar and Open Dialog.
UNCHECK the option if you're not on IE9 Release Candidate, on previous version prior to the IE9 RC the autocomplete action competes with the touch input panel's own URL suggestion system causing the input panel to disappear during URL entry, something you DON'T want to happen.
Disable Accelerators If You Don't Use Them
If you never used the little blue button in the picture above and always found them annoying go to Internet Options again, and under the same Advanced tab as the tip above, and the same Browsing section, uncheck Display Accelerator button on selection as shown below.
Give your tabs more room in IE9 RC
By default this is how IE9 RC displays tabs, with the tabs sharing the same row as the address bar.
Feels cramped to you? Imagine how bad it is when you're using a portrait oriented display and only have 480 pixels to work with! Luckily in IE9 RC we can fix this problem, just right click (tap and hold if you're using touch) on any tab and in the resulting menu pick Show Tabs On A Separate Row as depicted below.
Then you'll get a more spacious and pleasant display as the tabs and address bar occupy different rows.
When entering a URL the ESC key is your friend!
Here's the scenario, you want to enter a new URL into the address bar so you tap the address bar and bring up the tablet input panel to enter in a new URL, but then you realize that the old URL in the address bar isn't fully highlighted, so you try and drag and select the old URL with your finger so you can delete it to replace it with your new one. If only there was a BETTER way to do this! And there IS! When the cursor is in the address bar and the Tablet Input Panel is out, hitting the ESC key (in keyboard mode of course) will cause the WHOLE of the old URL to be fully selected so you can easily clear it and enter your new one. This also seems to be the case with Chrome and Firefox.
Understand How Scrolling Works.
It is important to understand how IE actually interprets what to do when you start dragging your finger across the screen to browse effectively. Before we continue, if you have a multitouch system. Bring up your Start menu, and type panning into the search box. You should be able to see the Change panning settings control panel option, open it up and ensure that Turn on Single Finger Panning is checked, for more information about this setting please refer to my Touch optimization guide. I noticed that on some newer multitouch systems, it seems that this setting is already checked by default unlike it was mentioned in my guide (which is a good thing!)
Scrolling (eg. Panning) The Page
To scroll the page around, all you have to do is just drag the page with your finger. But here are a few things you need to keep in mind when doing so.
- When you first put your finger down try not to hit a link or a button, sometimes IE might consider the intial touch as a click instead.
- If you want to pan horizontally, you must start off with a slight vertical motion before moving horizontally, this reason for this is explained in the following section.
Selecting Text And Stuff On The Page
Of all the drag to scroll plugins I have tried in Chrome and Firefox, they all have some interesting ways to enter selection mode so you can select text to copy and paste around. There's no mode for you to switch in IE when using touch, all you have to do is start a drag HORIZONTALLY to start your selection, and this is the reason why you can't start panning the page horizontally immediately. Once again a few things to keep in mind
- If you are used to using the flick gestures, note that if you drag and release too quickly the system might think you're flicking instead.
- In case it isn't obvious, to perform a vertical selection, you start off with a horizontal motion before going vertically.
Two fingers tells IE/Windows you ONLY want to scroll
If your system is multitouch capable then you're in luck. When you drag with 2 fingers (try and land them on the screen at the same time) you're basically telling the system that without a doubt the intent of your dragging motion is the scroll, not selection, not link activation. This works not just in IE, but in most other parts of Windows as well so if you're navigating through something tricky and you don't want the system to second guess what you're trying to do… TWO fingers!
You Don't Pinch To Zoom On A Desktop Browser
A lot of people like to point out that Windows 7 Tablets are not ideal for browsing because the response time of pinch to zoom on IE is SLOOOOOOOOOWWW. It is my opinion that this happens because desktop browsers work different from mobile browsers, and even did a little write up here.
Pinch to zoom will work on IE, but because zooming on a desktop browser causes it to relayout the whole page which is not something you want to do all the time. On a smaller device, and something with less screen real estate in pixels I understand the need to control zoom often, but on a 10" WVGA display?