Internet Explorer 9 Shows Up Faster, But Still Lacking


Microsoft has announced more details about Internet Explorer 9 the next version of the company’s much-maligned, but still dominant web browser. The highlights for IE’s update include much-needed performance improvements, hardware acceleration for graphics, as well as support for a number of new HTML5 elements and CSS 3 features.

If you’d like to take the developer preview version of IE 9 for a spin, head over to Microsoft’s new IE 9 website.

Of course with any new IE release, there is some inevitable disappointment, and IE9 is no exception — like it’s predecessors, IE9 is playing catch up rather than pushing the web browser envelope.

While there is reason to be excited about IE9, the browser is just as notable for what’s missing, namely features Firefox, Chrome, Opera and Safari are already shipping — the HTML5 Canvas element, support for HTML5 Web Workers and open web font support. Open web advocates will also be disappointed to here that IE9 will support the H.264 video codec instead of Ogg Theora. H.264 is a patented video technology (the same used by Flash), but Ogg Theora is believed to be unencumbered by patents, which is why open web advocates prefer it.

The H.264 news is especially disappointing given that speed at which IE updates, or rather doesn’t update. Web developers now know that, even if a better, more open and free video codec comes along, they’ll most likely have to support H.264 anyway since IE rarely releases updates at the speed of the web.

But rather than dwelling on what IE9 doesn’t do, let’s concentrate on the good news.

Based on what we’ve seen at this stage, IE9 is much, much faster than IE8 thanks to improvements in IE’s rendering engine. IE9 will also include a new JavaScript engine that puts the browser on par with script performance in Safari 4, Chrome 4 and Opera 10.5. Although all four other browsers are still marginally faster, IE 9 eliminates one the biggest gripes about IE 8 — it’s dog slow.

In other words, while IE9 still isn’t top dog in the speed race, at least it will have a somewhat respectable spot in the browser pack.

Also welcome news is IE9′s intention to support much of the CSS 3 spec, including advanced CSS selectors, fonts, colors, rounded corners and borders. As far as we’ve been able to discover, CSS 3 transitions and transformations are not part of IE 9.

Microsoft is also touting IE9′s “hardware accelerated” HTML5 capabilities. However, in our testing, IE9 was not significantly faster or smoother rendering the demo page on Microsoft’s site than were Firefox, Safari or Opera. Google Chrome does, however, completely fall apart on that particular demo page.

More good news in IE9 can be found in the hardware-accelerated SVG rendering, which, similar to what is available in beta version of Firefox, promises to improve native SVG graphics.

Sadly, the SVG support also highlights what many already consider the biggest oversight in IE9 — no support for the HTML5 Canvas tag. Lacking support for the canvas tag, which can be used to display SVG-based animations, IE9′s SVG support is considerably less appealing to web developers.

Of course, given that the canvas tag (along with the video tag) is essentially designed to get rid of the need for the Flash and Silverlight plug-ins, it isn’t to surprising that Microsoft is in no hurry to drive any nails into Silverlight’s coffin.

It was also announced that IE9 will not work with Windows XP. Given that Vista and Windows 7 have been out for some time, not supporting XP isn’t entirely surprising, but it’s still disappointing — especially since Windows XP remains a popular option on netbooks.

Provided you’re not using Windows XP and you’d like to help make IE9 better, you can head over to the IE Platform Preview for developers and download your copy today.

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