Microsoft's Internet Explorer 9 Focuses on Speed, Windows 7 Leveraging

Microsoft's new Internet Explorer 9 leverages both PC hardware and Windows 7 to provide a speedier and more colorful experience.

Microsoft went simple in Internet Explorer 9, the next iteration of its browser franchise released March 14-stripping down the user interface and rendering the frame translucent, the better to place Websites front-and-center. But that wasn't the only substantive change. Microsoft claims-perhaps inevitably-that this new browser sets benchmarks for speed, security and content support.

If anything, IE9 demonstrates Microsoft's increased ability to boot a particular platform or application's abilities by leveraging other products in its software portfolio. To wit, IE9 relies on Windows 7 for some of its most eye-popping features, including the ability to drag-and-drop a Website tab to the Windows 7 taskbar, transforming it into an icon that can, when right-clicked, open up a "jump list" full of one-click links to that Website's most vital content. Windows 7 users can also "Aero Snap" their browser windows to the left or right of the screen, which comes in handy when organizing multiple Websites or trying to view two Web pages side-by-side.

IE9 relies on the PC's graphics processor, along with a revamped JavaScript engine, to help speedily render rich Web content. And in practice, the browser certainly feels speedy in use. After a day of extremely limited eWEEK testing, it has yet to stall or choke, even under the weight of multiple, element-heavy Websites.

For the security conscious-or simply the excessively paranoid-IE9 comes with a number of security and privacy features designed to impart peace of mind. InPrivate Browsing allows Web surfing without leaving any traces that can be discovered later. The baked-in SmartScreen Filter evaluates potentially suspect Websites based on their reputation and notifies the user accordingly with pop-up windows and a list of suggested actions (for those who like to live a little dangerously, this feature can also be turned off). And Tracking Protection lets users decide which types of information they want viewable by third parties (depending on settings, though, blocking some content could also limit what a Website displays).

IE9 may operate to best effect with Windows 7, but it won't run at all with Windows XP. That could prove problematic in the short term for Microsoft, given that-according to analytics firm Net Applications-some 55.09 percent of PCs still run XP. That effectively shuts off IE9 from a substantial portion of personal computers that continue to support its rivals, including Firefox; in this scenario, the best Microsoft can hope for is that the migration from XP to Windows 7 continues at a steady rate.

According to Net Applications, Microsoft's share of the browser market currently stands at 56.77 percent, followed by Firefox at 21.74 percent, Google Chrome at 10.93 percent and Safari at 6.36 percent. For Internet Explorer, that represents a decline from the 68.46 percent it held in March 2009.

Even as Microsoft begins its quest to draw users to Internet Explorer 9, it has advocated that users cease their relationship with the increasingly antiquated IE6. "Friends don't let friends use Internet Explorer 6," reads a specially designed Website, "The Internet Explorer 6 Countdown," tailor-made by Microsoft for that purpose. "And neither should acquaintances."

That's because Microsoft is now offering, with much fanfare, a speedier and shinier alternative.