Review: Internet Explorer 9

Having covered the Installation of Internet Explorer 9, we can take a look at the browser in action.

Highlights of Internet Explorer 9 for me include:

  • Most compliant version of IE ever (although that isn’t saying much)
  • Fast enough to compete with Firefox and Chrome
  • Stripped-down, minimalist style
  • Integration with Windows 7 features such as Aero Snap

A default installation has a single tool bar comprising:

  • Large back and next buttons
  • IE’s “OneBox” – this is Microsoft’s answer to Chrome’s Omnibox or Firefox’s Awesome Bar (sic). It contains the URL with prominent domain highlighting, a search icon, HTTPS padlock icon, compatibility view icon, refresh and stop icons.
  • Tabs. Early reviews remarked about the small space available to tabs. Microsoft has addressed the criticism with a right-click option to show tabs on a separate row. In IE9, tabs appear below the address bar just as the other Chrome and Firefox put them above.
  • Home, Favourites and Tools icons.

IE9 does not show the page title in the application’s title bar, like Chrome.

New Features in IE9

IE 9 has been re-designed with very simple interface, slim-framed and in the Windows 7 style. You get no toolbars by default, the address bar and the tabs have been placed on a single row, which is fine until you open a whole bath of tabs, when overcrowding and squashing become serious problems.

Microsoft has not overloaded the browser with new features. It finally has a proper download manager, offers improved privacy protection and (pause for effect..) ActiveX blocking! More importantly, it has considerable Windows 7 integration. You can pin sites to the task-bar or start menu, use jump lists, Aero Peek and Aero Snap. You can Pin Web pages to the task bar – simply drag the tab from the browser to the task bar. When you roll over these ‘pinned sites’ you also get added options. Pinned sites are effectively short-cuts to web applications which open their own IE window. IE9 can also display an “about:Tabs” page when starting the browser or opening a new tab.

Performance

There is an on-going row about questionable benchmarks. IE9 scores 95/100 in the ACID3 test and 130/400 in the HTML5 test. It’s a huge leap from IE8 even if Chrome and Firefox developer’s complained about rigging. IE9 starts quickly and runs fast. Whether it’s noticeably faster than Chrome or Opera depends very much on the page viewed. The speed gains are largely down to the new JavaScript engine and graphic hardware acceleration courtesy of DirectWrite and Direct2D (not in the 64-bot version however). According to Microsoft, previous browsers only used about 10% of the processing power of the PC. IE9 attempts to harness hardware acceleration available in the graphics processor. Using the new Javascript engine, they hope to make the web render more like a local application than an internet page.

Security

The built-in Download Manager of IE 9 automatically pops up a warning message whenever you try to download an unknown or suspicious file. Fortunately you can set In-Private browsing easily.

IE9 Web Standards Support

Microsoft has committed to HTML5 – or at least the sub-set it wants – so it handles native SVG, canvas, off-line storage, geo-location, audio, video and CSS3 rounded corners using HTML5 standards. The browser supports IE9 compatibility mode, IE8 mode, and IE7 mode, in case you want to toggle between them so cure (or see) particular HTML quirks in pages. There have been surprisingly few compatibility problems reported with main-stream sites, so IE9 is back up there with Firefox, Chrome and Opera.

However, XML support in IE9 is broken, so some XML files but may render as plain text without validation. There are documented work-rounds which fix this some of the time. To see XML validation errors, you need to switch to IE9 compatibility view.

Verdict

It’s fast, it’s modern, it’s up-to-scratch with the competition; it has reasonable standards support, but being Microsoft, never as good as we want. It’s also grounded in the whole Visual Studio development way of building the user interface, so doing anything ‘under the hood’ feels very Windows=-heavy and clunky to me.

Existing Internet Explorer users will want to upgrade. If you’re a committed Windows user, there’s nothing here to put you off and plenty to make you happy. If you’re a convert to Chromium or Firefox, I doubt there’s anything in this Microsoft catch-up to make you switch back. AJS

The Internet Explorer 9 official page is at http://windows.microsoft.com/ie9

3 thoughts on “Review: Internet Explorer 9

  1. teknophilia says:

    I’m still keeping Firefox 4 as my primary browser, but I have to admit that IE9 is now a decent browser, and is about as good as other browsers (without add-ons).

  2. Chesco says:

    Allan, even though you state that you are not expert, I beg to differ. I think you know what you are talking about.

    IE9 is a big positive step of IE8. As we all know Microsoft is never going to live up to the standards of many people no matter how good the product is and it’s all just because it’s Microsoft. Aside from that I really believe that IE9 can actually compete with Firefox and Chrome. I do feel a bit more safe using IE9 instead of IE8

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