File Under: Browsers, Software

New IE9 Preview Features More Speed, Standards Support

Microsoft has released the first update to its Internet Explorer 9 preview. The latest release brings some speed improvements, more standards support, and more hardware acceleration for the browser’s HTML5 features.

To take the new IE9 for a spin, head over to Microsoft’s IETestDrive site and download a copy today. We’ve been testing it for a few hours, and here’s what we’ve noticed.

The best news in this release is that IE9 has already made some significant speed improvements since the first developer preview earlier this year. For example, IE 9 is now on par with Safari, Google Chrome and Opera on the Sunspider JavaScript test, which attempts to measure how a browser will perform on JavaScript-heavy sites like Gmail and Facebook.

Although IE9 is still not the fastest browser when it comes to rendering JavaScript, the difference between it and the competition is small enough that you’re unlikely to notice any difference on real world sites.

Complex diagrams laid out in CSS -- and they actually render the same in several browsers, including the new IE9. Part of the Microsoft's IE9 demo site at ietestdrive.com.

Complex diagrams laid out in CSS -- and they actually render the same in several browsers. Part of the Microsoft's IE9 demo site at ietestdrive.com.

What might be even more encouraging about this release for web developers is Microsoft’s emphasis on ensuring that markup works the same across browsers. Microsoft’s general manager of Internet Explorer Dean Hachamovitch, writes on the IE Blog: “web browsers should render the same markup — the same HTML, same CSS, and same script — the same way… that’s simply not the case today.”

And yes, Hachamovitch does note that IE6 is the main reason that’s true (to which we would also add IE7). But he’s also correct in noting that because HTML5 and CSS 3 support varies by browser, it’s tough to use HTML5 elements or style them with CSS 3 and have your markup behave the same across all platforms and browser.

What works in WebKit browser sometimes fails in Firefox, and vice versa. For CSS 3, developers often need to resort to -webkit or -moz prefixes for newer features.

But while those are annoyances to be sure, they pale next to the real difficulty of cross browser support for new features — legacy IE browsers.

IE9 will improve the situation with support for the HTML5 video tag (though not yet, support for video is slated for the next developer preview), but it will still fall short of matching the HTML5 features in its competitors. Take the Canvas tag, for instance. While IE9 has made strides with SVG support (partly related to Canvas), it still doesn’t support the actual HTML5 Canvas tag. Gecko and WebKit have had support for Canvas for over three years now.

Hachamovitch touts IE9′s JavaScript improvements, which are welcome — for example IE9 will now support DOMContentLoaded, getElementsByClassName, createDocument, and more — but again, for the most part these are things other browsers can already do.

If you want to see IE9 blazing a trail instead of catching up to the pack you’ll need to look at the hardware acceleration features, which rely on DirectX for faster rendering. Mozilla is planning to add hardware acceleration to Firefox, but so far this is one area where IE9 bests the competition.

While the latest developer preview of IE9 leaves much to be desired, it is still a work in progress. IE 9 is already undeniably a much better browser than its predecessors — it’s faster, renders pages according to standards, supports (some) HTML5 and, given the number of people that rely on IE, will help move the web forward.

See Also: