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What You Should Know About Internet Explorer 11

By Wesley Fenlon

Microsoft's latest built of IE11 fixes many of IE10's Modern UI limitations, and adds in support for cross-device syncing and OpenGL.

Touch, touch, touch. If there's one thing Microsoft wants you to know about the next iteration of Internet Explorer, it's this--this browser is made to be poked, prodded, and swiped. Internet Explorer 11, shown off at this week's BUILD conference alongside Windows 8.1, offers features like a "touch optimized address bar," "more beautiful, touchable favorites," and "navigation built for touch." Touch frenzy aside, there are actually some substantial updates coming in this version of Internet Explorer, many of which are fixing the Modern UI-imposed limitations of Internet Explorer 10.

IE11 actually offloads some touch computations to the GPU to handle UI interactions like panning, swiping and zooming webpages; Microsoft also claims offloading image tasks to the GPU saves battery life, as the CPU is freed up to focus on page loading. Page loads are faster compared to IE10, as they are with with every browser update. The address bar will now suggest sites and Windows Store apps through Bing, offer direct links to certain site sections, and deliver weather/stock results without searching.

Microsoft's removed the 10 tab limit present in the last iteration of Explorer--you can now have up to 100 tabs open per window at once--and added an option to see those tabs along the bottom of the screen at all times, instead of hiding them as was the default in IE10. Background tabs are suspended so they're not eating up memory and/or battery life while another tab is open.

Favorites are now editable in the Modern IE browser and can be given custom tile icons. Websites pinned to the Start screen can now be given live tiles, too. Unfortunately, there's a downside here--sites need to support the live tile feature for any kind of dynamic data show up here. Websites can now be loaded in side-by-side windows, and opening a link to a webpage from another Modern app won't take over the entire screen.

And here's a big one: WebGL support. To head off security concerns with WebGL, Microsoft claims "IE11 scans for unsafe WebGL content and implements a software-based renderer to complement the GPU."

Another big one that brings Internet Explorer in line with Google Chrome: Syncing. Microsoft writes "As you move between your Windows devices, your open tabs, favorites, history, user names/passwords, and more are always up to date and under your control."

Microsoft eventually plans to bring IE11 to Windows 7, and the browser update will be available in both the Desktop and Modern views of Windows 8. But all of these changes, aside from some under-the-hood performance tweaks to improve battery life and page rendering, are for the Modern version--Microsoft said user feedback guided many of its changes, like making tabs visible at all times and allowing two webpages to be open side-by-side. For Desktop browser users, this is pretty much business as usual, but syncing and WebGL are both great additions to the browser.