Microsoft, a bit of a sleeping giant in recent times on the browser front, has launched a beta (or test) version of its latest web browser, Internet Explorer 9 (IE9), hoping to revive its fortunes in an increasingly competitive market.
Since 2003, the company has seen a 97% lead in market share dwindle to just 60%. So what is IE9 all about and how is it ‘different’.
I will freely admit to never having been an Internet Explorer fan, only ever using it as a ‘test’ browser as Microsoft invariably have a different, or non-standard in some cases, way of rendering the same information but, as 60% of the world still use IE, such testing is essential.
There is even 20% (including UK Government departments) still using the bain of developers, the much-despised IE6, but that’s another story.
According to the blurb, IE9 contains a range of new features, many of them designed to make the browser perform more like an application, such as those now common on smartphones, with specialist pieces of software offering a customised and intuitive way to interact with a website.
Microsoft has adopted technology that allows the browser to tap directly into a computer’s graphics chip, rather than just its processor, and this hardware acceleration makes web pages more nimble and behave more like software running directly on the computer.
The new browser supports (and about time) forthcoming global web standards, such as HTML5, which allow web developers to create web sites with rich graphics and video. These standards are already used by other browsers.
IE9 also supports scalable vector graphics that, as the name suggests, scale to the size of the window and adjust the resolution and size accordingly. These have been a standard of other web browsers for many years, but Microsoft has never supported them.
It is things like the above, non-adherence to standards or non-support of items, which has always meant that a web designer cannot use a single browser for development purposes.
The browser also introduces new functions, like the so-called ‘Pinned Sites’, so that a user’s favourite websites that can be accessed directly from the Windows Taskbar, without having to open the browser. Instead of clicking the ‘favourite’ star or dragging an icon to the bookmark bar, you can drag it to the Windows taskbar.
Other new features, such as a combined search and address bar and a simplified menu, are very familiar to users of Firefox or Chrome browsers.
It is, of course, only a ‘beta’ version for testing purposes, so there are bound to be some bugs to be ironed out before a final version is released. This, after all, is the reason for beta versions.
Having decided to download it, I was immediately, for some reason, confronted with two sets of Essential Windows Updates. Not one, but two.
Upon launch, I immediately had to scurry to make a couple of minor adjustments to a few sites to make the properly viewable. These sites are fine in all other versions of IE, Chrome, Firefox, Safari and just about every other known browser. Good start.
The browser has a very ‘Chrome’ look about it, even down to the icons being used, and loads quickly. Very quickly with a warm start.
It also has a much larger ‘real estate’ area, on a par with Chrome. Favourites are a drop-down but can be pinned and there are not the numerous, and often intrusive, toolbars one normally associates with Internet Explorer.
The tabs are clustered to the right of the search/address bar although, as the blurb states, you can pin some of them to your task bar if you so desire.
Generally fast, has promise but still a few bugs to sort out (re standards compliance?) unless I haven’t set the options correctly.
It certainly shows ‘promise’, but it may be hampered by the fact that it doesn’t work on the old Windows XP, still by far the most dominant Microsoft operating system. It can only get better by the time a ‘proper’ version is released, probably next year.
Security has always been a concern with Internet Explorer and it remains to be seen what will transpire on this front with the new version.
I will certainly give it a good, thorough testing, but for the moment I cannot see me changing from my regular browsers, namely Chrome 7 dev build and Firefox.