South by Southwest (SXSW) was certainly very important for the IE team this year. Right there, during a SxSWi event, Microsoft announced the release of the next version of its flagship product - Internet Explorer 9. It carries several new improvements compared to older versions of IE, and while Microsoft is trying to get rid of the "IE6 Inheritance", IE9 is promoting HTML5 and platform-dependent performance optimizations.
I remember how at PDC 2010 Internet Explorer 9 was pitched as a revolutionary browser - with massive optimizations (and generally being written from scratch, unlike its predecessors) it seemed to be a powerful competitor to existing products, like Firefox and Chrome. HTML5 support is now native, and its pretty much IE's main show card right now - with some additional perks. Web sites that can be pinned to the taskbar, the new back/forward button layout, general Metro-ization of the UI are just some of the changes
It all starts with the installation process itself, which was optimized to the maximum. Updating to IE8 usually took me from 10 to 20 minutes on a pretty powerful computer that was running Windows XP. On the same hardware configuration (although with Windows 7), IE9 was downloaded and installed in less than 5 minutes - pretty impressive compared to what was happening a while ago.
Going further, the startup time and general tab loading time is much lower compared to IE8 (and even Firefox 3.6.14). I no longer have to wait for a site to completely load in order to click the Stop button (on browser launch).
Speaking of tabs, the placement remained the same as in the RC release - right by the address bar.
This is a bit unusual and might take some time to adapt to, but it is not that bad as it seems. An improvement I like about tabs is the fact that if there are multiple pages open, the tab closing button stays in the same place so it is easier to keep the cursor in one place and just click as many times as needed to close a sequence of existing tabs. There was an article discussing this usability issue and it seems like Microsoft engineers took this close to heart, implementing it for the users' benefit. Every tab is now also an independent process, so a crashed page won't take the entire browser with it.
If performance was an issue, IE9 users will see that IE9 is much faster in pretty much every domain (including working with plugins like Silverlight and Flash). Speaking of which, IE9 doesn't have an issue that was bound to Firefox for quite a while - whenever a user decides to move a tab outside the existing tab array (in a separate window), the Flash content will ultimately reload (e.g. tested on Pandora) in a Firefox instance. With IE9, the tab is simply removed from the set and placed separately - with the content still active. An existing tab will only be forced to reload when specific configuration elements will be changed (e.g. the popup policy for a web site).
IE9 finally features a download manager - something that was missing for years. Its minimalistic progress indicator highly resembles what's present in Chrome - the same bottom bar with a progress indicator (although, once again, Metro-styled) and some options regarding the file (e.g. cancel the download):
The download manager itself is also very minimalistic, but at the same time offers access to the most used actions (e.g. open a file) and general information (percentage completed, download speed and ETA). I'm glad I won't have 12 separate windows open now once I decide to initiate several simultaneous downloads. And by the way, there is a pause button now for those large, bandwidth-consuming files (example below).
There is still the Compatibility Mode present for older websites. IE9 automatically detects them and offers the possibility to switch to a different viewing mode given the layout loaded. Although I see this button on a lot of pages (including online magazines, news sites and even YouTube), there are no problems with the content as it is so hopefully I won't have to use this feature that much.
Hardware accelerated rendering was known to be introduced a long time ago. By taking advantage of the native access layer, IE9 is able to use the power of the GPU (one of the reasons Windows Vista or 7 are the only supported versions of Windows for IE9) to optimize graphic performance. Of course, you probably already know about FishIE Tank:
But this will generally apply to other media content rendered through HTML5 canvas. On a side note (since I mentioned graphics), IE9 is now able to render SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) files in-browser. Proof here.
IE9 can be downloaded from the official Windows Internet Explorer download page.
For the official release announcement from the IE team, visit this page.
For information about Web Tracking Protection, visit this page.