Microsoft Touts HTML5, SVG Support in IE9 Platform Preview

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2010-03-16

Microsoft Touts HTML5, SVG Support in IE9 Platform Preview

LAS VEGAS -- With a stated love for Web standards such as HTML5, Cascading Style Sheets 3 and Scaleable Vector Graphics, Microsoft has released a Platform Preview of Internet Explorer 9, the next version of its browser, which promises to be more interoperable than ever.

At an IE9 Test Drive event on Microsoft's campus in Redmond, Wash., the software giant laid out its strategy for helping developers create the next generation of Web applications by delivering a new standards-based browser and by taking advantage of hardware innovations, among other things.

At the event, which took place on March 11, Dean Hachamovitch, general manager for Internet Explorer at Microsoft said Microsoft's goal is to enable developers to use the same CSS, HTML and other Web technologies to take advantage of PC hardware.

And at the MIX 2010 conference here, Microsoft unveiled its IE9 Platform Preview to the astonishment of naysayers who have doubted Microsoft's sincerity when it comes to standards. Yet, the IE9 Test Drive might have been called an HTML5 love fest.

"In a nutshell, we love HTML5," Hachamovitch said. "We love it so much we want it to actually work." However, Hachamovitch also said he believes there are two definitions of HTML5. One is the specification itself. The other is that "HTML5 has taken on an aura -- sort of like Web 2.0."

Essentially, Hachamovitch said developers want to be able to write a markup once and have it run the same in multiple places. "It's like USB," he said. "You don't want 'USB left' or 'USB right;' you just want it to work."

Rob Mauceri, principal group program manager for Internet Explorer at Microsoft, said, "When we started planning IE9, one of the first things we did was look at HTML5. We knew we were moving from the world of AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and X M L) to the next generation of HTML5 apps."

Overall, Microsoft's goal with IE9 was three-fold to produce a browser that supported the "best interoperable HTML5 so the same markup can be used everywhere," to deliver hardware-accelerated graphics and to deliver a high-performance browser. With IE9, Microsoft says it is delivering on all three goals. Indeed, Jason Weber, principal program manager lead for Internet Explorer, whose job it is to focus on the browser's performance, said even the IE9 Platform preview is "scary fast."

John Hrvatin, senior program manager lead for Internet Explorer said the "same markup" theme has become the rally cry for the team because "we want to use the same HTML, same CSS, and same JavaScript and have it work across browsers."

Meanwhile, Mauceri said the IE team is trying to bring a lot of capability into the browser without requiring a plug-in. Of course, that sentiment prompted questions of whether IE with its support for HTML5 might stand as competition to Microsoft's Silverlight Rich Internet Application plug-in technology.

Steven Sinofsky, president of Windows and Windows Live at Microsoft addressed that question. "You've got the HTML5 standards work in process and we're supporting that," he said. "And there's a whole world of plug-ins and Silverlight is part of that, like Adobe has with Flash. I tend not to think of it as one technology replacing another or being competitive with another."

At MIX10 Jonathan Yarmis, an analyst with Ovum, echoed Sinofsky. "Well, Scott Guthrie [Microsoft corporate vice president] said Silverlight is approaching the point where it's on 60 percent of all Internet-connected devices," Yarmis said. "But HTML5 will be the 90-plus percent solution. So as long as they keep Silverlight out in front of the spec, I don't see there being a problem with competition or cannibalization."

Yet, Mauceri acknowledges that even the implementations of a specification can vary between IE, Google's Chrome, Firefox, Safari and other browsers. Moreover, "when you implement ahead of the spec you can break things," he said. However, "the key is with HTML5 we think the time is right," he said. "We think it's mature enough to start working on this stuff."

Moving to the HTML5 Web


Ted Johnson, founder of Visio and partner program manager for Internet Explorer, reiterated that top goals for the IE team were to deliver interoperable HTML5 markup so that HTML and CSS markup could be interpreted the same way and that JavaScript would run the same way. And another major goal was to deliver GPU-powered HTML5 graphics and media. "You have this piece of hardware whose whole purpose if to decode video, use that." Hachamovitch said.

Johnson said he believes the world is moving from a Web 1.0 world of content focused on HTML and CSS, to the Web 2.0 AJAX Web, and now to the HTML5 Web, which is graphically- and media rich.

Meanwhile, Johnson said Microsoft also is supporting SVG in its IE9 Platform Preview. "SVG is a huge spec; we're not doing it all in this preview but we're doing a lot of it," he said.

Johnson said Microsoft will support SVG 1.1 and in IE9 will support document structure, basic shapes, paths, text, transforms, painting, filling and color, scripting, styling, gradients and patterns, clipping and mashing, and markers and symbols. However, IE9 will not support SVG fonts, declarable animation or filter effects, he said.

Patrick Denglar, senior program manager for Internet Explorer and Microsoft's representative on the World Wide Web Consortium's (W3C) SVG Working Group, said he sees a convergence between the worlds of HTML5, CSS and SVG, and Microsoft is taking advantage of it.

"The future of SVG is Web development," Denglar said. SVG is changing with HTML5 and CSS for this next big wave of Web development."

Microsoft has been criticized for re-joining the W3C SVG working group in January of 2010, but having made any concrete statements about its plans for using the technology. Now Microsoft has made its splash, even creating a Facebook group known as IE SVG.

Both Mauceri and Weber said the IE team monitors a group of 30 sites daily to measure the browser's performance against because they represent the coding patterns of the Web -- and if the company can improve performance across these sites it becomes easier to improve performance overall. Moreover, rather than simply interpreting JavaScript. IE9 actually compiles the code with its new JavaScript engine, Weber said. This is particularly useful with multicore machines, where the first core is used to load a site and the second core is used to compile the JavaScript down to native machine code. This kind of hardware-accelerated performance is helping to set IE9 apart, Weber said.

To help speed up JavaScript performance, Microsoft delivered a brand new JavaScript engine, known as Chakra.

In a blog post about the moves, Hachamovitch said:

"To improve JavaScript performance even more, Chakra does something quite different from other script engines today. It has a separate background thread for compiling JavaScript. Windows runs that thread in parallel on a separate core when one is  available. Compiling in the background enables users to keep interacting with Web pages while IE generates even faster code.  By running separately in the background, this process can take advantage of today's multi-core machines - so, users with a Core2Duo or QuadCore or i7 can apply that power to making Web pages faster without any additional effort."

Meanwhile, Microsoft continues to take criticism for not faring well in Web standard tests such as Acid 3 and Google's Sputnik.

"As we support more of the markup our Acid 3 score will go up," Hachamovitch said. "Acid 3 is a proxy many people look at as standards compliance. But there are other ways to look at it."


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