Microsoft announces Availability of IE 9 – we go Hands On

Microsoft today announced the launch of the latest version of the world‘s most-installed browser with the release of Windows Internet Explorer 9 at an event at the SXSW Interactive conference. Internet Explorer 9 is Microsoft‘s most-downloaded browser beta of all time. Already more than 250 top sites from around the globe are taking advantage of the capabilities in Internet Explorer 9 to deliver differentiated experiences to their customers, (you can go see these with with
I have been playing around with the IE9 beta on a netbook for some time. While the interface was something new, the fact that it was not finished did not really make me use it all that much. These days I tend to stick to Chrome for most of my web browsing, and only tend to use Internet Explorer for Windows updates or if I am using a few of the sites that still only run well on IE – yes those still do exist… On first use of IE9 you can clearly see Microsoft had some influence from Google’s Chrome principles. The interface is clean, sparse and seemingly no-nonsense. Toolbars are banished by default, and there is clear focus on speed. For example – when managing add-ons, IE9 will tell you how much time you will save on start up if you disable a specific plug-in.

Kind of reminds me of the Soluto tool that tells you how much time you can cut off loading times. Its a slightly nerdy tool, but with browsers, speed is very important – be it loading time or rendering of websites. But back to the interface – IE9’s interface is quite a departure from the IE of old. Gone is the rounded edges of IE8 – its instead replaced by rigid straight lines, try its best to use up minimum screen space. Tabs render to right of the URL, which quickly runs out of space if you use a lot of sites at once. There is however an option to make the tabs render beneath the address bar. Which raises the question – if MS wanted to save screenspace, why did they not just use the uppermost titlebar for tabs like Google Chrome does? I suppose this is good enough, but these days the web platform should be the prominent focus. There is also small attention  to detail – the back and forward buttons actually change colour to match the dominating colour of the website your are on. Not really useful, but nice nonetheless.

Before IE9 was launched, Microsoft showed off the rendering performance of IE9 with a bunch of tools they developed – which honestly I do not trust. I want to compare browsers using official benchmarking tools that are based on industry standards, but clearly the IE9 results are still impressive. Microsoft has made a lot of noise about IE9 being able to use hardware accelaration features found in modern graphics cards, somethjing which will surely lead to more immersive, graphics rich websites. But how does it work for just everyday browsing most of us do? The folks at Engadget already did a comparison of the top three browsers, and here it is:

I am not going to keep on writing about how fast IE9 is – but you can take me at my word. It is lightning fast. But faster than Chrome 10? You have to decide. But IE9 also throws in a few new features which makes it better suited to our new web as a platform browsing habits. First is the “Pinned Sites” feature. IE9 has made improvements to Pinned Sites, which enables users to take their favorite sites and place them directly on the Windows 7 Taskbar like any other application. So you can keep a site you visit regularly (lets say Gmail), right in your taskbar. Click on it, and Gmail opens up in its own window. These pinned sites feature also acts as a notification channel – for example a social networking site might want to use it as a quick way to tell you you have a message waiting. While not really revolutionary, it does make a lot of sense.

These same Pinned sites also gain customized menus that enable you to quickly change settings without going into the site, called “Jump Lists”. Windows 7 has allowed this feature with apps for a while now (for example, right click on Outlook’s taskbar button to see choices like a quick entry into the calendar). Now sites can use this very same functionality – but I had a tough time finding sites that are enabled for it by now. I will just have to take Microsoft’s word for it. This will be ideal for streaming audio services..

Now IE has always had one big blemish – because it is the world’s most used browser, hackers have always targetted it’s vulnerabilities. This was perhaps the number one reason many people jumped to different browsers. In December, Microsoft introduced Tracking Protection in Internet Explorer 9, which puts people in control of what data they are sharing as they move around the Web, by enabling consumers to indicate what websites they‘d prefer not to exchange information with. Think about – you can now easily define which sites are acutally allowed to use your stored details. While its a great idea, I do not quite agree with how Microsoft approached it. Right now I have to subscribe to specific company’s defined “trusted” lists, which I find a very manual process. But at least you can easily see which application did actually enquire your details so far.


So would I recommend IE9? Well – if you running Windows Vista or 7, yes, please download it, whether you plan to use it or not. Windows still has a number of services which rely on IE9, and the enhanced security alone is worth it. Do I see myself using it instead of other browsers? Depends – I can absolutely replace Firefox, just because of the speed improvement. Firefox has become a slow mess, and Mozilla really need to take notes from the other browsers. But for IE9 to replace Chrome I really need to enhance on what Google is offering right now. While features like Jump Lists and Pinned sites do make it better, I need to see more sites actually using it. But it is still early days – lets see if developers actually adopt Microsoft’s new browser features.

PS: Friends do not let Friends use Internet Explorer 6. If you see someone still running IE6, help them out…