Microsoft Provides Sneak Peek at Internet Explorer 9 (Review)

Microsoft this week released a “platform preview” of Internet Explorer 9. This isn’t an IE9 beta, mind you; it doesn’t have the features you’d expect in a browser. It doesn’t even have an address bar for that matter. Instead, the IE9 Platform Preview serves as a sneak peek at some of the new web technologies and standards that Microsoft is working on building into its flagship browser.However, this unfinished sneak peek runs only on Windows 7 and updated Vista SP2. Microsoft has only been working on IE9 for about three weeks, so an actual release is not expected in the near future. But the new browser has already moved from a 20 to 32 on the Acid 2 test, though, this is, of course, not released code.

Microsoft Provides Early Look at Internet Explorer 9 (Review)

The Platform Preview, and the feedback loop it is part of, marks a major change from previous IE releases,” said Dean Hachamovich, the browser team’s general manager, in a statement issued today before he took the stage at MIX10, Microsoft’s Web developer conference, to publicly launch IE9. “While it loads and renders Web pages using the Internet Explorer 9 platform, it is not designed to be a complete Web browser,” Microsoft said in a fact sheet that accompanied the preview’s announcement. “This build is simply a first look at the work Microsoft has done so far and is ready to share with its developer community.

Can IE 9 Compensate Microsoft’s Browser Losses?

Microsoft is claiming that the speedier Internet Explorer 9 will be enough to stem the steady erosion of IE’s market share, claiming that it’s now slightly faster than Firefox 3.6. At least one prominent analyst agrees. But is speed alone enough to make a difference? So far, Microsoft is playing up speed as IE 9’s primary benefit, and adds that it adheres to HTML 5 standards as well. It’s not clear, though, whether that will be enough to stop what has seemed to be an inexorable decline in IE market share.

IE has lost approximately 8 percentage points of share as measured by NetApplications.com in the last 12 months, and now accounts for about 62% of all browsers in use. Even the introduction of IE8 a year ago hasn’t stemmed the losses. Hence, I’m not convinced that speed alone will solve the problem. Firefox and Chrome, which have both been gaining market share at IE’s expense, both having something that IE doesn’t: A vibrant ecosystem of developers writing add-ins.

What’s New (Feature Enhancements) in IE9?

Internet Explorer has received a fair amount of criticism in the past for its tepid web standards support and security vulnerabilities that were targeted by hackers. With IE9, however, Microsoft is heavily touting its improved handing of new web technologies. The IE9 Platform Preview provides improved HTML5 support, CSS 3 support (CSS is a technology that makes it easier for designers to specify how they want their sites to look), and an upgraded JavaScript Engine for better performance of web apps.

Also, IE9 will provide hardware acceleration for rendering graphics and text on a web page (Microsoft’s press release didn’t mention which GPUs will be supported, but it’s probably safe to assume you’ll need a fairly recent card), and built-in support for H.264 video playback using HTML5 (such as what YouTube currently provides for some videos).

Microsoft has several technology demos on its IE9 Test Drive site, such as a T-shirt designer, various animation demos, and even a variation of the classic game Asteroids. None of these demos use Flash; instead they all make use of web technologies such as JavaScript and HTML5. Moreover, IE9 is the first browser to use DirectX, although Safari on Mac uses Quartz rendering. It’s not just that hardware graphics acceleration hasn’t been widespread enough to take advantage of before.

How to Download Internet Explorer 9?

The IE9 Platform Preview is a free download from Microsoft; since it’s nowhere close to being a finished project, it won’t replace your current version of Internet Explorer. Be sure to download it and try out some of the demos. Unlike full-fledged editions of IE, the IE9 Platform Preview does not replace existing versions of IE – such as IE7 on Vista or IE8 on Windows 7 – but runs alongside them on the same PC. The preview is a 31MB download, and can be retrieved from the Test Drive site that Microsoft has set up.

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