Review: Internet Explorer 9 (RTM)

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.

Standards Compliance

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.

IE9_Acid3

Faster

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.

IE9_FishIE

Cleaner

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.

IE9_HomePage

IE9_TaskBar_Pinned

IE9_CNN

IE9_Hulu

Trusted

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.)

IE9_TPL_Main

 

IE9_TPL_Add

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.

Download Internet Explorer 9: Windows 7 32-bit | Windows 7 64-bit | Windows Vista 32-bit | Windows Vista 64-bit

Presenting a more beautiful web

imageTonight from SXSW (South by Southwest) in Austin, Texas, Microsoft has announced the general availability of Internet Explorer 9.

Internet Explorer 9 is the next generation of web browser from Microsoft and supports web standards and is the first web browser to have full hardware acceleration.

With IE9, the web is faster, cleaner, and trusted. IE9 has been written from the ground up with support for web standards, improved JavaScript performance, and hardware accelerated text, video, and graphics.

IE9’s new user interface is a radical departure from the Internet Explorer of years past. It is simplified and takes the focus off the browser and places it on the browsing. With the new Pinned Sites feature, websites become apps. IE9’s navigation and frame take on the color of the website’s icon, creating a unified experience. IE9 gives web developers access to Jump Lists in Windows 7, enabling them to enhance their websites by providing easy access to common tasks on the Taskbar.

Internet Explorer 9 is a secure, trusted browser. With new Tracking Protection functionality, IE9 lets users take steps to prevent information from being shared with websites. ActiveX filtering to prevent rogue ActiveX controls from compromising the PC and keep users safe and secure.

To find out more about Internet Explorer 9 click here.

Download Internet Explorer 9: Windows 7 32-bit | Windows 7 64-bit | Windows Vista 32-bit | Windows Vista 64-bit

A Gift from Microsoft–HP ProLiant Microserver

HP_ProLiant_MicroServerIn the interest of full disclosure, I wanted to take a moment to announce that during the 2011 Global MVP Summit, Microsoft gave me an HP ProLiant Microserver.

The HP ProLiant Microserver is designed for the small business space, and is meant to be a first server for those that have no real IT infrastructure or are using a peer-to-peer network. The Microserver has a very low price point of only $349 for the base model with no OS.

The server supports RAID 0 and 1, and for those that want remote management, an optional iLO card can be purchased for an additional fee.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be installing Windows MultiPoint Server 2011, Windows Home Server 2011 RC, and Windows Small Business Server 2011 Essentials RC to test the software and the performance of the ProLiant Microserver. I may have just found my replacement for my aging HP MediaSmart EX475 server.

Thanks for the server, Microsoft!

Drive Bender Beta Now Available

Division-M, the company behind Drive Bender, has made available the beta release of their flagship product. With Drive Bender, you will be able to achieve some Drive Extender like functionality with storage pooling and data duplication.

This beta release is no where near final and does come with some risk. I do NOT recommend using Drive Bender on a server with production data.

System Requirements:

– Windows Home Server 2011

– .NET Framework 4.0 (if not installed, the Drive Bender installer will take care of this for you)

Important Notes:

– As stated previously, DO NOT use with production data. You are solely responsible for taking necessary precautions with your data.

– This release does not contain the add-in for the Windows Home Server 2011 Console. It will be coming in a future release.

– Performance during read/write operations is not optimal (read: saving and accessing data is slow)

– Be aware of a locking issue when renaming folders.

– When deleting folders or files, if a lock is held on the target folder or files, the folder or files may remain on one or more volumes in the storage pool.

– A file size check has not been implemented yet. What this means is that Drive Bender does not check to make sure that there is enough space in the pool when files are being stored to properly ensure data integrity. This will be fixed in a future release.

To download Drive Bender, click here.

Life after Drive Extender

As I’m sure everyone is now well aware, Microsoft has removed Drive Extender from both Windows Home Server 2011 and Windows Small Business Server Essentials 2011. This now leaves it up to third parties and OEMs to fill the void that has been left in the marketplace.

So far, there are some companies that are stepping up and creating what look to be some very promising solutions. Let’s look at each of them.

  • StableBit DrivePool – StableBit DrivePool is an add-in that will bring some element of drive pooling and folder duplication to the WHS/SBSe 2011 platform. According to the developer’s website, DrivePool will let you take multiple hard drives and combine them into one storage pool. You can create shared folders on this pool and choose whether or not to duplicate folders. Sounds a lot like Drive Extender. There are a couple caveats to DrivePool, however. The first is that DrivePool is an add-in and requires that WHS/SBSe be installed. The second is that data is only duplicated once (stored on two hard drives), not much unlike how Drive Extender is implemented in WHSv1. As of right now, the add-in is in the alpha stages, a technical preview is expected in a few weeks, and no release date is known at this time. Look for more on DrivePool as it becomes available.
  • DriveBenderDriveBender is a new storage pooling product that is looking to WHS/SBSe as well as all versions of Windows. DriveBender is slated to have native 64-bit support, use a file system that can be read in other PCs, support data duplication, be self-balancing, and add new storage quickly and easily. DriveBender is slated to release a beta on the 21st of this month, so look forward to more on DriveBender in the next few days and weeks.
  • DataCoreDataCore is a storage virtualization company with years of experience in the enterprise storage space and is looking at providing a solution for WHS/SBSe customers. Not much in terms of specifics are known at this time about what DataCore will be offering, but they are looking to bring some of their provisioning and mirroring features to WHS/SBSe. WeGotServed did an interview with a VP from DataCore that provides some insight as to the direction DataCore is headed. I look forward to seeing what they bring to the table in the next weeks, months, and years.

These are just three possible solutions and don’t take into account what OEMs are planning or DIY solutions like Intel’s Rapid Storage Technology or using a hardware RAID setup.

It’s going to be interesting to see how the storage landscape for Windows Home Server evolves over time. I, for one, am glad to see third parties stepping up to fill the void that Microsoft left.

Seattle-bound for MVP Summit and Student Insider Meetup

I’ll be in Seattle February 23rd-March 3rd for Microsoft Student Insider stuff and the 2011 Microsoft MVP Summit. I’ll be taking my new SLR digital camera with me and taking lots of pictures, so look for those over the course of those eight days.

Please join me in welcoming the following to the Student Insider program for 2011:

  • Den Delimarsky –@denniscodedennisdel.com – Den is what I consider a Windows Phone Ninja. He knows the platform inside and out and blogs about it extensively on his own website and on DreamInCode.
  • Drew Devault – @sircmpwnsircmpwn.blogspot.com – Drew is an XNA and Silverlight wizard (and he’s still in high school!)
  • Billy O’Neal – @MalwareMiniGunwinwrench.com
  • Steven Nowak (Don’t have any blog or Twitter handle for Steven yet. When I do I’ll update this.)

MVP summit content is covered under the Non-Disclosure Agreement, so I’m not able to talk about what I’ll be doing there, other than to say that I’ll be meeting with the Home and Small Business Server team at various points through out the week. If you have any questions that you want me to try to answer, feel free to leave them in the comments.

Windows Home Server 2011 Walkthroughs

To coincide with the release of the Release Candidate build of Windows Home Server 2011, I will be posting walkthroughs of functionality in Windows Home Server 2011 periodically. These are very high-level walkthroughs (think 100-level) and are designed to provide a brief introduction into the Windows Home Server 2011 feature set.

(To view these walkthroughs you will need to have Adobe Flash Player installed.)

Walkthroughs:

Windows Home Server 2011 Dashboard

Windows Home Server 2011 Launchpad

Windows Home Server 2011 Remote Access

Windows Home Server 2011 Release Candidate Now Available

SplashScreen_WHS2011

Today Microsoft has made available to the public, the Release Candidate build of Windows Home Server 2011.

This build is the first build made available without Drive Extender technology, and is the first build to officially reveal that “Vail” will indeed be called Windows Home Server 2011. (For those that remember, I blogged about this after some confusion during CES.)

Because there is no Drive Extender anymore, you will need to rely either on some form of RAID to increase your amount of available storage, or rely on a large single drive if you want lots of storage from the get go. Microsoft is not saying too much yet about what they and their OEMs strategy is around storage. Hopefully in the coming days and weeks we will know more.

As always, feedback is welcome and appreciated. Since this is a release candidate, not everything can or will be acted upon, but every bug report will be looked at. You can file bugs online through the Microsoft Connect website.

For the build number curious amongst us, this is build 8400.16385 and is available from Microsoft Connect today. The CRC and SHA1 hashes for the ISO have been posted below along with steps to check the integrity of the downloaded ISO.

Hashes for today’s release:

Volume label: GRMSHSxFRE_EN_DVD

CRC: 0xC191510A

SHA1: 0x65AB44627F12E6FC5268BE2ED9F5489CB98021DF

To run MSCDCRC against an ISO file that you have downloaded follow these steps.

  1. Download MSCDCRC to the same folder that you downloaded the Vail ISO to. (Click here to download MSCDCRC)
  2. Open a Command Prompt window and navigate to the folder from Step 1
  3. Type “MSCDCRC EN-US_WHS_PREM_InstallDVD.iso” (without quotes)
  4. The integrity check will take a few moments to complete. After the check is complete compare the CRC and SHA hashes to the hashes posted below
  5. If the hashes match then you have successfully downloaded the ISO

Proof that Windows Home Server “Vail” is Windows Home Server 2011

Over the last few days there has been speculation, possible confirmation, possible denial, and even silence on the matter of what the official name of Windows Home Server Code Name “Vail” will be when it is released later this year.

There was some speculation this past week that it would be called Windows 7 Home Server. That’s not correct. Here’s what I’m offering as proof that Vail will indeed be marketed as Windows Home Server 2011.

This past week at the Consumer Electronics Show, the Windows Home Server team showed off integration between Vail and Windows Phone 7, and then took to their blog to tell us all about it. In that blog post, there is a screenshot showing a remote access domain name (win7phone.homeserver.com). I decided to see if after the show that server was still up and publicly accessible. At the time these screenshots were taken, Microsoft’s demo server was still available. Upon arriving at the login screen, I was presented with Exhibit A.

If you look at the logo as well as the title bar it says Windows Home Server 2011.

To be completely clear, this is not a screenshot taken from a server of mine, it is not taken running a build of Vail that I have access to, nor is the image photoshopped in any way. This comes directly from a server hosted by Microsoft, using a build of their choosing, and it appears conclusive that Vail is in fact Windows Home Server 2011.

Windows Home Server Dynamic DNS Update

Microsoft just passed along some information that next week on January 11th, there will be an outage of the service that powers *.homeserver.com and *.remotewebaccess.com domain names. If you are a Windows Home Server or Windows Small Business Server user and are using a remote access domain name in one of those two categories, there is a chance that you will be affected.

This outage is taking place to migrate the service from the Windows Live Custom Domains platform to the Azure platform. By moving to Azure, stability and performance will be improved, and will lay the groundwork to support the new Windows Server Solutions products (Vail, Aurora, and SBS2011) being released later this year.

The outage will last approximately 24 hours and during this outage no updates will be able to be performed. What this means is that if your IP address changes during the downtime, your server will be unavailable until the outage is cleared. What this also means is that if you want to change your domain name or release your domain name, you will be unable to do so.

Also, you may see alerts stating that your server was unable to update your domain name, and any 3rd-party add-ins that rely on the remote access services may fail.

Not to worry however, when service is restored your server will automatically update the remote access configuration, alerts will disappear, and remote clients will be able to connect once more.

If after the update, in the rare case that your domain name is not working, follow these steps to correct your configuration.

1. Open the Windows Home Server Console

2. Click on Settings

3. Select the Remote Access item in the Settings page

4. Click Repair and follow the instructions on the screen