Microsoft's Internet Explorer 9 beta is fast and good-looking, with some longtime Internet Explorer issues eliminated. The question is whether it can convert Google Chrome and Firefox users.
Analysts sometimes refer to Microsoft as the archetypical "fast
follower," a company whose skill rests in recognizing an emerging trend
and then adjusting strategy to embrace or crush it. Case in point: Internet
Explorer, the company's Web browser originally introduced in August 1995, which
quickly overran Netscape on its way to dominating the then-emerging browser
Part of Microsoft's strategy for Internet Explorer adoption involved
bundling the browser with Windows, which
in turn led to years' worth of antitrust fun-and-games with the federal
. Nonetheless, thanks in large part to its early lead, IE remains
the nation's most-used browser-one whose market share in recent years has been
threatened by the emergence of leaner, meaner competitors such as Google Chrome
and Mozilla Firefox.
Internet Explorer 9
. Like a fat and aging boxer forced to run laps until he's
back in fighting trim, Microsoft has stripped the newest version of its browser
down to its essentials: The search and address bars have been consolidated into
one; and the translucent frame is designed to place the Web, as opposed to the
browser interface, front and center. The stripped-down interface seems heavily
reminiscent of Google Chrome, which isn't a bad thing.
Click here for more information on Internet Explorer 9.
Microsoft claims that IE 9's design allows it to leverage both HTML5 and
Windows 7 to deliver rich content faster. And the beta version
, unveiled during a
high-profile Sept. 15 event in San Francisco,
certainly feels light on its feet. For those using Windows 7, new
browser-centric features include the ability to drag and pin a Website tab on
the Windows 7 taskbar, as well as "Aero Snap" windows onto the right
or left of the screen-the former useful when you want to organize multiple
Websites, the latter when you want to view two Web pages side-by-side.
You can also use IE 9 with Windows Vista-but Windows XP users who want to
experience the new browser are out of luck; apparently, IE
9 will never run on your antiquated warhorse of an operating system
may have been a mistake on Microsoft's part: Analytics
firm Net Applications suggests that some 60.89 percent of the U.S. market still
runs Windows XP
, versus 15.87 percent for Windows 7 and 14 percent for
Even if you don't subscribe to those exact numbers-and assuming that Windows
7 will, in fact, eclipse its predecessors' market share sooner rather than
later-the fact remains that a lot of the population continues to rely on
Windows XP. Microsoft recognizes this, which is why it made the
decision in July to extend the XP's end-user downgrade rights for the life cycle
of Windows 7
; also keep in mind that extended support for Windows XP SP3
only expires in April 2014. Given all that, it seems contradictory for the
company to slam the door completely on XP users being able to run a Microsoft
browser newer than IE 8, supposed
hardware acceleration issues or no
For those who can use IE 9, though, Microsoft has included more features
designed to help navigate the Web faster. Clicking the small "New Tab"
icon at the top of the browser will open the "Your Most Popular Sites"
page, which lists the key sites you visit-a feature similar to one present in
Apple Safari, which can also present your Top Sites in a grid format.
Other useful "speed" options include a "Manage Add-Ons"
window that allows users to disable programs that slow down browser
performance, and a discrete Notification Bar ("Would you like to make
Internet Explorer your default browser?") that doesn't stop you from
browsing in order to give it an answer.
For those who like their privacy, InPrivate Browsing allows for surfing the
Web without leaving traces that can be discovered later. IE 9 also features a
baked-in SmartScreen Filter that evaluates potentially suspect Websites based
on their reputation, and notifies the user accordingly with pop-up windows and
a list of suggested actions. Paired with the standard Internet Explorer options
for adjusting Privacy and Security, it's clear that Microsoft wants to present
IE 9 as its safest and most discrete browser ever-but as with all such things,
users will ultimately determine if it meets their requirements.
"By default, Internet Explorer respects your privacy and doesn't send
your keystrokes to search engines," Dean Hachamovitch, general manager for
IE, said during Microsoft's Sept. 15 press conference. "The address bar is
obviously respectful of privacy."
But is it fast? Microsoft designed the browser to lean on the PC's
underlying hardware, most notably its graphics processor, for accelerated
graphics and video. "It makes HD video smoother, colors truer, graphics
clearer, and Websites more responsive," reads a note on Microsoft's IE 9
performs like an application installed directly on your computer."
In practice-which is how everyday people will experience it, with likely no
knowledge of Acid test scores-IE 9 feels quick. After nearly a week of testing,
the beta has yet to crash or choke on a particularly rich Website, problems that
I experienced with fair regularity whenever using previous Internet Explorer
versions. Will it persuade a longtime Firefox and Google Chrome user like me to
switch back to the IE franchise? That remains to be seen-but based on a few
days' test driving, I'm willing to give it a chance.