Over the course of the last six months, I have been using Internet Explorer 9 in its various forms (platform previews, beta build, release candidate build) and have come away very impressed with the job that Microsoft has done.
Internet Explorer 9 is the newest addition to the Internet Explorer family. With IE9, Microsoft has sought to make IE standards compliant, faster, cleaner, and provide a trusted browsing experience. In this review, I’ll dig into each of these categories.
For years now, Internet Explorer has somewhat been the bane of every web developers existence. Previous versions of IE have not supported web standards very well, and developers have had to resort to performing magic to get their websites to render properly in IE and across other browsers. With the release of Internet Explorer 9, Microsoft has made strides in standards compliance. On the Acid3 test, produced by the Web Standards Project, Internet Explorer 9 scores 95/100. According to Microsoft, they don’t score a perfect 100 because two technologies SVG Fonts and SVG animation are in transition. Compared to IE8 though, IE9 is leaps ahead. IE8 only scores a 20/100 on the Acid3 test. A buzzword (in my opinion) that you’ll hear is, HTML5. HTML5 is the next evolution of the HTML standard. HTML is the language that all webpages are written in. The reason I call it a buzzword is that HTML5 is not a complete and ratified standard. There are many pieces that are still being developed or are in transition. However, Microsoft and all the browser vendors will be talking up HTML5 and hopefully someday soon it will go from a moving target to a ratified standard.
Internet Explorer 9 is the first web browser with native hardware acceleration. By leveraging APIs in Windows 7 and Windows Vista, Internet Explorer 9 is able to take advantage of the computing power found in the CPU and in the GPU. What this means is that instead of web pages feeling flat and lifeless, the web comes alive and endless possibilities abound. Online gaming is faster and smoother, watching videos is no longer a chore, audio sounds better, and text appears with more clarity. Hardware acceleration makes web sites feel less like websites and more like web apps. Using demos available from Microsoft’s Beauty of the Web website, I was able to test the performance of my laptop with IE9’s hardware acceleration features. The addition of hardware acceleration to the browser has brought IE9 light-years ahead and greatly enhances the web browsing experience.
Internet Explorer 9 has a new and different user interface. Gone is the clunky interface of old, and in is the clean, streamlined interface. In IE9 the concept of the OneBar has been introduced. Instead of having an address bar and a search box, the two have been combined. Searches can be performed from the search engine of choice, and browsing to websites is still easy as ever. By default, tabs now appear on the same line as the OneBar, but can be moved to a second row if so desired. By reducing the size of the browser frame (area around the website), webpages have a greater display area, and more can be done with less scrolling. I personally was never a fan of the address bar, the favorites bar, the tab bar, etc., that appeared in previous versions of Internet Explorer, so the new slimmer IE9 is welcome sight. Internet Explorer 9 also introduces the concept of Pinned Sites. When I was first introduced to Pinned Sites, I was immediately excited. With Internet Explorer 9 and Windows 7, you can take websites and pin them to the taskbar. By pinning them, they behave as if they were their own application. The browser frame takes on the color scheme of the websites icon, and if supported by the website, provides easy access on the Jump List to common tasks.
Internet Explorer 9 is the securest release of Internet Explorer to date. IE9 introduces some needed and even cool privacy functionality. Internet Explorer uses a technology called ActiveX for its plugins. If you’ve ever installed Flash Player or Silverlight, or viewed a PDF in IE, you’ve used an ActiveX control. ActiveX has long been an attack vector for malicious code, and with IE9, Microsoft has introduced ActiveX filtering. By turning on ActiveX filtering, you can turn off all ActiveX controls, and then selective enable the ones you want to use on a particular webpage. This helps with privacy by turning off advertising that may be displayed using Flash, and prevents the accidental install of malicious code. By far, however, my favorite security feature of IE9 are the Tracking Protection Lists (TPLs). By default, when you’re browsing around you’ll see advertising and in some cases it will be targeted / personalized just for you. If you’re someone that doesn’t want to be tracked like that, you can enable a TPL that will prevent information from being gathered and sent to advertisers. The best part about installing a TPL, is that it only takes two clicks. One click to select the TPL and another to confirm installation. (If you want to install a TPL, you can find a list here and here.)
My Overall Impressions
Internet Explorer 9 is a much welcome release from Microsoft. By finally supporting web standards, Microsoft has recognized the importance and the future of the web. As web based applications and cloud computing take hold, having a web browser that supports the technologies being used is increasingly important. I strongly recommend downloading and installing Internet Explorer 9 and trying it out. If you’re a diehard Firefox supporter who swears off IE, please give it a try. There are numerous improvements to the browsing experience with IE, and so many cool new features, testing is warranted. Internet Explorer 9 is safer, faster, better looking, and all around a nicer browser to use.
To find out more about Internet Explorer 9 click here.