Internet Explorer’s popularity seems to have peaked in 2003 at a stunning market share of 95 percent, but fierce new web browsers like Firefox and Chrome have now reduced IE’s share to between 50 and 60 percent (depending on who you ask).
Microsoft, in classic form, has vowed to go back on the offensive with the latest iteration of IE, Internet Explorer 9. This new web browser is now available in beta form. Let’s take a look at IE9 and see what new features Microsoft is using to compete.
Hey! You Got Some Chrome In My Internet Explorer!
Loading Internet Explorer is rather jarring if you haven’t recently used Google Chrome. All of the recent Internet Explorer versions, including IE8, relied on a similar interface that made use of multiple toolbars located at the top of the browser window. This is how web browsers were made for years, and Microsoft seemed content with the interface they’ve developed.
Apparently Chrome made the IE team rethink their plans. This new version of Internet Explorer 9 stuffs your screen full of, uh, nothing. In fact, Internet Explorer’s default settings devote less pixels to toolbars than Google Chrome – and not by just a little bit, either. Don’t believe me? Check out this screenshot below comparing the two side-by-side.
If you told me six months ago that IE9 would rely on a more minimalist interface than Google Chrome I would have slapped you with a bass. But there you have it.
This minimalism leaks over to other areas of the interface as well. Notifications now pop up at the bottom of the browser page when they’re required and immediately go away after you’ve interacted with them. The favorites sidebar has been changed as well, so it only takes up a limited portion of the web browser instead of eating up hoards of pixel space even when you only have a handful of favorites listed.
Internet Explorer 9 also rips off – er, is inspired by – the tab window found when you open a new tab in Chrome or Safari. Just as in those browsers, opening a new tab now presents you with a summary of your ten most popular sites. You can also reopen closed tabs, reopen your last session, or start a private browsing session from this menu.
Integration With Windows 7
Windows 7 is a really solid operating system. All reports so far seem to indication that Microsoft is having a far easier time selling Windows 7 than Vista, so it isn’t unreasonable to expect a majority of computers to be running Windows 7 within the next year or two. Internet Explorer 9 provides further reason to upgrade by taking advantage of the new features in Windows 7.
This integration revolves around Windows 7 jumplists. For example, let’s say you decide to pin Twitter to your taskbar. Right-clicking on the Twitter icon will bring up a jumplist that lets you immediately write a new tweet or send a message. This feature is brilliant because websites like Facebook and Twitter already behave more like applications than traditional webpages.
Changes Under The Hood
Chrome’s humorous speed test videos highlighted a very simple fact – Chrome is frickin fast! Internet Explorer, on the other hand, has never been known for its speed. Shaving off a few seconds here and there when loading a webpage may not seem important, but it makes a big difference in the subjective feel of how fast a program is.
Internet Explorer 9, I’m somewhat surprised to report, is extremely quick. As quick as Chrome? Maybe. I’m not equipped to fully benchmark a browser, and IE9 is still in beta besides, but I can tell you that IE9 beta feels as quick as Chrome. And I typically use Chrome as my primary browser.
There are reasons for this. Internet Explorer 9 makes improvements to JScript and CSS rendering and also includes robust HTML5 support. These improvements also have increased IE9’s score in the Acid 3 web standards test. The latest build of IE9 scored 95/100, up from a score of 20/100 in IE8.
I’m really impressed by the beta build of Internet Explorer 9. It is a browser that I’d seriously consider using instead of Chrome, my regular browser. It felt equally quick and the integration with Windows 7 jumplists is awesome.
Do you agree, or do you think Microsoft still has a lot of catch up to do? Let us know in the comments.