Microsoft were showing off their new web browsing baby last night, and through the joys of Twitter I managed to score an invite to the Melbourne launch party. The event, paid for by Microsoft and hosted by tech blogger Delicate Genius aimed at introducing the new functionality and benefits of the IE9, and providing some direct comparasion against the current browser innovation incumbents, Chrome and Safari.
Despite its commanding lead in the browser market, it’s been a long time since IE was considered any hardcore users first choice for performance, features, speed, or usability. Generally most power users will use IE once – following a fresh install of Windows so they can download Firefox.
So, does IE9 represent a compelling enough offering to restore it as your daily driver? In short, quiet possibly. Here’s a couple of the upgrades and changes that impressed me:
Look & Feel
It’s been a long time since anyone has been able to say that Microsoft’s key focus for IE has been the look of the tool. In a world of Chrome’s razor thin tool bars and Firefox skins, IE has generally stuck to the default visual ID of the operating system it resides in. Add to that a predisposition to tack on mutlitple toolbars (often performing the same function – I’m looking at you Google searchbar), and you quickly find that your browsing experience is more about IE than the website your viewing.
IE9 has certainly considered this in their visual approach here, shrinking down the menu/tool bars to an industry leading size (smaller than Chrome I’m told), and implementing a unified search/location bar. The result here is IE “gets out of the way” providing more emphasis on the web content your viewing. Less is more.
Pinned Site – Sites become apps
As web sites continue to move away from simple content deliver to richer, broader two-way experiences, developers are starting to look at smarter ways to expand functionality outside of traditional confines of the browser window. In aid of this Microsoft now promotes ‘sites as apps’. This allows you to pull a link or tab into your taskbar and then access part of that sites functionality directly from Windows - just like a real application. This is going to be great for site like Gmail, Facebook, and Twitter. No need to access the site directly; everything can be done from your desktop.
It started with Jave, then Flash, and now HTML 5 continues to drive the web evolution towards a rich multimedia experience. But there content possibilities require considerable processing power to render in-browser. First to market with a solution to this, IE9 now has embedded GPU enabled rendering to take some of the load off the CPU for those more processer intensive sites. The demo we were shown involved rendering a couple of hundred 3d fish in a fish tank enviroment. IE 9 handled the demo with ease crusing along at alomost 60 frames, whereas the non-GPU capabile Chrome struggled to display less than a dozen before grinding to a halt. This is going to be great for full res 1080p video and gaming in browser.
Other key impressions included
- html5 compliance, despite not being a standard spec yet, must be frustrating from a browser devs point of view.
- Clean, uncuttered interface. The browser frace is virually unnoticable.
- Speed of rendering engine – beat Firefox and Chrome rendering Facebook.
- Tear off tabs – You can finally move a Youtube session off your current window without losing your spot.
All in all IE9 is an exceptionally worthy upgrade. Microsoft is starting to ‘get’ user-centered design, and you can see it paying dividends across flagship products such a Windows Phone, Win7 and now IE. It’s arguable that the feature set they’re offering here positions IE9 as the browser of choice across PC land right now, however, with Firefox 4 and Chrome updates just around the corner, th
is could quickly change. Regardless, the need to immediately go out and replace Microsoft’s default option is greatly reduced for those format reinstall jobs! Well worth a look.