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IE9 Final Release: Turning Over a New Leaf

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Microsoft's final version of Internet Explorer 9 is finally available for download!  After several preliminary releases and much debate about web standards compatibility and overall design, IE9 is ready for general consumption.  While Microsoft has certainly released a more modern version of its Internet Explorer lineup, it's unclear whether this incarnation of IE will win users away from Firefox and Chrome.  With half of all Internet users using a version of Internet Explorer, however, improving the new browser to meet current web standards will have significant ramifications for developers.  If Microsoft can get the huge swath of IE 6-8 users to at least migrate to IE9, it will undoubtedly have a positive impact on the web.

In February, Microsoft sent an IE9 release candidate onto the market.  Reviews of the release candidate were generally positive among proponents of the new web standards.  The final release of IE9 is essentially unchanged from the original release candidate.  Let's just recap the features that make IE9 a massive leap forward.

User Interface/Design

Users of the previous incarnations of Internet Explorer can attest to the cluttered feel of the browser window, especially when compared to Firefox or Chrome.  Microsoft's new marketing slogan for the IE9 release, "Unlocking the beauty of the Web," is reflected in the IE9 browser's paired down design. No more clutter; no more excessive tool bars.  In fact, the new design has been proven to show more of the actual web page than Firefox's browser. The navigation/address bar takes center stage.

  • Pinned Sites-- The desktop could stand to learn a thing or two from the mobile environment of fast-access websites in the form of "apps".  Mac OS X 10.7 "Lion" is taking a page from the mobile book too with many of its upcoming features.  Using the "Pinning" feature, users of the IE9 browser can attach  a favorite site to the Taskbar in Windows 7, giving websites a more native application feel.  Best of all, the design is visually unobtrusive.  Many sites are including "jump lists" in addition to site pinning.  Which will allow you to access some of the site's content or functionality directly from your Taskbar. With various categories open to quick taskbar access, websites like Huffington Post reported significantly increased user engagement from those who accessed their site through the pinning feature.

  • OneBox--- Like Google Chrome, IE9 combines an address bar and a search bar into "OneBox."  As might be expected, Bing is the default search engine.  That said, users can easily change the default OneBox search engine.

  • Download Manager--- In response to user demand, Microsoft has added a download manager function that allows users to track their recent downloads and the progress of current downloads.

Performance and Standards

Microsoft claims that the IE9 browser is the most standards-compliant browser on the market today.  Support for several CSS3 properties--- box-shadow, including border radius etc.--- have been built into the browser.  IE9 developers decided to forgo support for some CSS3 properties that they considered less significant.  Full support is offered for the following HTML5 features:

  • Geolocation APIs


  • Video and Audio Elements


  • Canvas HTML5 element


  • Selection Interface


  • HTML 5 Parsing


  • New DOM APIs


  • Scaling Vector Graphics (SVG)

The IE9 team has followed the philosophy of supporting only the most stable new web standards.  Specs like WebSockets and IndexedDB were left out of IE9 because these specs, and many others, could change significantly before the standards are completely finished.  However, you can download support for WebSockets and IndexedDB from HTML5 Labs.  So at least you get a choice to implement these specs if you desire. 

Also new to this version of Internet Explorer is the new Chakra JavaScript engine.  The big buzz about Chakra is that it runs JavaScript on a separate CPU.  Overall, this provides faster rendering and an overall better browsing experience.

Overall, IE9 also runs much more efficiently than IE8.  The jury is still out on whether it is comparable to Chrome and Firefox, as much of IE9's speed can be attributed to creative hardware optimization.  Microsoft does have the ace in the hole when it comes to Windows users (still around 90% of the world) because it has the freedom to go deep into the OS and provide hardware acceleration for their browser.  Users with less-advanced hardware won't notice as much of an increase in IE9's overall speed.  It should also be noted that IE9 will not work with Windows XP.  The ability to enable hardware acceleration was probably a major factor in this decision. 

With so much ambivalence surrounding IE9's release, it will be interesting to see if IE9 passes muster over the coming months.

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