Why Microsoft is Confident about Internet Explorer 9

By Paul Lilly

We show you what to expect, and not to expect, from Microsoft's upcoming Internet Explorer 9 browser.

It's never too early to talk about next-generation browsers, especially with HMTL5 poised to play such a big role in future development. Such is the case with Microsoft's upcoming Internet Explorer 9, an ambitious browser upgrade that, unlike previous versions, has a shot at blazing a new trail rather than mostly playing catch-up with the competition. In anticipation of the next-gen release, Redmond's browser development team has released the IE9 platform preview, but there isn't a whole lot to sample just yet. This isn't a beta, or even an alpha release, but a true preview, deprived of any kind of UI and other essential tools for actually using a browser. 


IE9 bets heavily on HTML 5

Microsoft has made it clear that they're focusing heavily on HTML5 with IE9, with related features ranging from the genuinely useful to the 'gee whiz that's cool.' If you play around with the DOM Range & Selection demo, for example, you can experiment with changing the properties of a word, sentence, or entire paragraph in real-time, such as changing the text color, size, or font. For the most part, that falls under the 'gee whiz' category, but also underscores how HTML5 can be used to help websites act more like applications than static pages in cyberspace.

Microsoft is siding with H.264 instead of OGG

Because no one can agree on what codec HTML5 should incorporate, it's going to be up to each browser maker (and website) to decide what to use, and Microsoft has chosen h.264. IE9 will support h.264 video, which will probably emerge as the standard most major sites gravitate towards, even though there are compelling cases for going with the open OGG Theora format.  On the audio front, IE9 will also incorporate audio tags for listening to embedded MP3 and AAC audio.

Standards compliance will be improved

It's a little ironic that Microsoft has gone on record as saying "web browsers should render the same markup -- the same HMTL, same CSS, and same script -- the same way." It wasn't until IE8 that Microsoft appeared to put any real effort into standards support, and as a result, they broke the web in the process. Because so many web developers coded their pages to look correctly in IE at the expense of clean code, Microsoft had to include a "Compatibility Mode" in IE8 so those same pages wouldn't appear busted. In a way, Microsoft made its bed, and now has to sleep in it, just like every other web browser has been doing.
For what it's worth, Microsoft is once again touting a higher commitment to web standards compliance, and has vow to make IE9 compatible with CSS3, which is currently under development. CSS, or Cascading Style Sheets, defines the look and formatting of an online document, and the main benefit here is that webpages will look the same across multiple browsers. 

Catching up in performance

IE9 also adds DirectX video acceleration for SVG graphics and text rendering, and will tap into your GPU to make web browsing even faster. According to Microsoft, developers don't need to rewrite their sites to take advantage of this, their existing portals will simply run faster. JavaScript rendering can be offloaded to the GPU, and you'll even be able to play two 720p videos in the same browser window without a drop in quality.

IE9 vs Chrome 5

It's far too early to predict how IE9 will shape up against the competition's upcoming browsers, especially Chrome. Google's Chrome browser was built for speed, and that focus carries over to the recently released Chrome 5 Beta, which Google says runs up to 30 percent (V8 benchmark) and 35 percent (SunSpider benchmark) faster than previous betas. Google is also injecting HTML5 elements into Chrome, such as Gelocation APIs, App Cache, web sockets, and file drag-and-drop capabilities. But perhaps most interesting is the Flash Player integration, as opposed to banking on HTML5 for video playback chores.