File Under: Browsers, HTML5

IE9 Leads Pack in HTML5 Support? Not Exactly

Internet Explorer 9 Beta on the Windows 7 desktop

The standards body that oversees HTML5 has released the results of its first tests designed to measure the level of HTML5 support in web browsers. The results, surprisingly, put Internet Explorer 9 ahead of Firefox, Chrome, Opera and Safari.

Microsoft’s IE9 team deserves some major credit for finally building a browser with strong support for web standards. However, despite the impressive showing in the Worldwide Web Consortium’s (W3C) tests, it would be pure fiction to suggest that IE9 is that far ahead of its competitors when it comes to supporting HTML5, CSS 3 and other components of the new web.

The reason IE9 tops the W3C’s list is that the test looks at only a fraction of the HTML5 spec. In other words, the test is very limited. Even better, it’s limited to things IE9 is good at.

The W3C test looks at seven elements of HTML5: attributes, audio, video, Canvas, getElementsByClassName, foreigncontent, and XHTML5. While the audio, video and Canvas tags are perhaps the most widely used components in HTML5, that list is a long way from covering the entire HTML5 specification.

Run IE9 against other aspects of HTML5 and the browser would be decidedly behind its competitors. IE9 lacks support for Web Workers, drag-and-drop features, SVG animations and the File API, all of which are vital components for building useful web applications, and all of which enjoy considerable support in other browsers.

IE 9 has some support for CSS 3, but it lags behind other browsers, and it can’t handle much of SVG 1.1. From a web developer’s viewpoint, that means IE9 will load your Canvas tags, but if you’re using transforms or other animations based on CSS 3 tools, IE 9 users won’t see what you can show to Firefox, Chrome, Opera or Safari users.

As an aside, running IE9 through the decidedly less formal (but still informative) HTML5Test site, the browser doesn’t perform as well as the competition. It scores 90 out of 300 points. Google Chrome scores 231 points and Safari 5 scores 208 points. Firefox 4 Beta 8 slots in at 217 points. The HTML5Test site ranks browsers based not only on W3C-approved components of HTML5, but also some experimental stuff, and some components that aren’t in the spec at all but are widely considered important tools for building more powerful HTML5 web applications, like Geolocation.

Perhaps what’s most curious about the areas IE9 does look good — the HTML5 Canvas, audio and video tags — is that they’re are all areas where Microsoft has previously touted its Silverlight platform as the ideal solution. With IE9, Microsoft is clearly backing away — at least for now — from its proprietary platform and moving toward the open web for these applications.

Internet Explorer 9 may not be perfect when it comes to HTML5 — no browser is — but at least it’s making huge strides over its predecessors. Perhaps the development would be more encouraging if its predecessors weren’t so firmly entrenched in the dark ages of the early web.

The latest version of Microsoft’s browser is expected to arrive in its final form some time during 2011. It is currently in beta release, and if you’re running Windows 7 or Vista, you can download it now.

This post was updated to reflect Firefox 4 beta 8′s score at HTML5Test instead of beta 7 [thanks, David].

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