Sitting up and Taking Notice

I had been playing around with a version of Internet Explorer 9 for a little while.  It wasn’t too exciting as there was no GUI sitting on top of it.  But, this week, a Beta of the product was made available for all.  I was there to check it out.  Internet Explorer has not been my browser of choice for some time now.  I’m a real fan of Google Chrome which had become my default on both my Macintosh and Windows computers.  I was curious to see what Microsoft had done with this new release.

I still had a bad taste in my mouth having to use Internet Explorer 6 this summer and the limitations that it had on what I was trying to do.  On my own computer, I had Internet Explorer 8 installed for those few web sites that just refuse to work with anything else.

It was a rainy day so I gave it a download.  Hmmm.  The download is only 6GB or so – this is promising.  Once that was received though, it started the REAL installer which took quite a while to download the rest of the browser.  This isn’t going to go well.  What about the minimalist approach that was promised.  Then, oh dear, once downloaded, it’s reboot to install time.  Has nothing changed?

I do the reboot and load the browser and take a first look at the interface.  Interesting.  Tabs on the top and if you run it without toolbars and bookmarks, you really do get the minimalist look.  Unlike IE8, there is no separate search window.  The approach of a combined address and search bar saves a bunch of space and the home, favourites, and tools icons are neatly tucked away in the corner.  The result is more room on the screen for the actual webpage being viewed.  Now, I’m really getting interested.

image

The browser again seems to be very nicely embedded into Windows 7.  I can tear off a tab to spawn a new browser.  Nice.  I can even pin a shortcut to the taskbar just like any other application.  Nice.  Opening a new tab brings a smile to my face.  I’ll bet that these turn into thumbnails as the product matures…

image

What I’m most interested in though is the promise of hardware acceleration.  All of the major browsers have been beating their chests talking about using your computer to do the rendering using your computer’s hardware rather than the browser itself.  That’s a major goal for every browser, along with a focus on support for Javascript, HTML5 and CSS3.

To show this off, Microsoft has put together a site to testdrive the new browser.  http://ie.microsoft.com/testdrive/.  I started by looking at the “How fast can your browser speed read?” link and it was here that I had my first Whoah! moment.  It actually didn’t happen when I ran it in Internet Explorer.  It just appeared to be a cute little demo.  It was only when I ran it in another browser and then flipped back to IE that I sat up and noticed.

imageMicrosoft IE9 Speed Reading Score – What’s your browser’s score?

Results from another browser…

What are the other browsers handling this?  The release versions certainly paled in comparison.   I went and downloaded Chromium’s Canary Build and the latest Beta of Firefox where hardware acceleration is a goal and they performed better but not nearly as well as IE9.

Recognizing that this is a Microsoft demonstration, I do play around with the rest of the demonstration applications.  IE9 certainly does shine.  How does it work in the real world?  It’s hardly likely that I’d run into these types of things in real life.  However, by making this the default browser for the afternoon made me feel like screen redraws were faster and scrolling smoother.

There’s my first kick at the new browser.  I am really impressed with what I’m seeing.  I’ve read that others are taking shots at Microsoft for taking design issues from Chrome and Firefox.  I’m not sure that’s entirely fair.  It’s a very competitive domain and I’d prefer to think that developers are pushing each other to greater things.  That’s good for us, the end consumer, as we get a better browsing experience as a result.  For the moment, I’m sitting up and taking notice with IE9.  This isn’t just tinkering and if this is an indication of what’s to come, we are going to be pleased.

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