IE9 launched in public beta

Internet Explorer 9 launched for testing
By Mark Lyndersay
Originally published in the Business Guardian on September 23, 2010

BG on IE9. Microsoft’s new version of its web browser works best on its newest operating system and offers some practical new features, such as the Facebook features in the browser page pinned to the taskbar in this image.

On September 15, Microsoft announced the public availability of a test or beta version of its newest version of Internet Explorer, the company’s web browser for the Windows platform. Microsoft Trinidad and Tobago invited the Business Guardian to view a live stream of the launch presentation at its local office.

Quite aware of the ho-hum nature of web browser upgrades, the company made sure to have a sparkling presentation that emphasised the new superpowers built into the software.
There was a lot of glassy browser chrome and fast moving fishes but at root, the key takeaways from the presentation were that the software offers more compliance with web standards, including a deeper commitment to HTML5, takes advantage graphics card acceleration and sports a design that puts a lot less browser between the user and their websites.

The hardware acceleration and HTML5 support were the centrepieces of a demonstration of the new browser which offers quite startling speed gains in rendering complex graphics. Microsoft’s website in support of the new browser,, makes much of these new capabilities and the results are undeniably attractive. It wasn’t immediately clear whether this acceleration would extend to Intel’s integrated video chips, but software using GPU (graphics processor based) hardware acceleration has tended to skip all but the most powerful integrated chips from nVidia.

Still, it’s hard to avoid the fact that Microsoft has a lot to atone for. Version six of the company’s browser was so adamantly ignorant of even the prevailing web standards of its time that its lingering presence on older computers remains a thorn in the side of modern web developers, who have, in frustration, taken to issuing pop-up warnings to users of IE6 that their sites won’t support that browser.

It’s also hard to miss the reality that Microsoft’s half-hearted updates to its browser after it achieved dominance in the market were met head on by new competition from Mozilla’s Firefox, Google’s Chrome and Apple’s Safari, each of which brought something to the table that wasn’t to be found in the Microsoft browser.

As of August 2010, Microsoft still owns a bare majority of the web browser market, with a share of between 60 percent and 43 percent, depending on which web reporting body you choose, a dramatic drop from highs of 90+ percent. The software company clearly doesn’t want those numbers to slip any further.

Internet Explorer 9 takes a curious approach to making that happen. The browser will not run under Windows XP, the zombie OS that Microsoft has been trying to kill off for years now and works with diminished functionality in Windows Vista.

In Microsoft’s current operating system, Windows 7, users can take advantage of AeroSnap to evenly position two browser windows to fill a screen, pin windows to the taskbar and make use of a popup menu of actions on those minimised windows. These pop-ups can be coded to add commonly used features on websites and Facebook makes good use of the new services.

Websites can be coded so that their colour schemes are reflected in the glassy chrome of the browser’s navigation bar, which itself is admirably minimal, a single strip that accommodates the most useful buttons, a URL bar and tabs in a single strip.
Security features have been enhanced with a feature called “application reputation” which, apparently, consults a database of known software before offering warnings about dubious downloads.

Microsoft also talks broadly about features that monitor the performance of “add-ons,” the plug-ins that web surfers used in the bad old days before HTML5 natively enabled multimedia within the browser and includes a useful function to deactivate problematic plug-ins during a browsing session.
In its presentation, Microsoft made no mention of Flash, which is notorious for both stealing RAM and making browsing sessions unstable, nor was there any word on how its own competing multimedia plug-in, Silverlight works with IE9.

In summary then, IE9 is a more minimalist version of Microsoft’s market leading web browser, with some useful security and plug-in management additions and a very welcome embrace of modern web standards. Now if only the company could make IE6 disappear...
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