Microsoft rolls out Internet Explorer 9

The browser boasts a new look and functionality on top of the usual speed and security boosts, but it won't run on Windows XP

At an event at the SXSW (South by Southwest) music festival on the evening of March 14, Microsoft officially rolled out Internet Explorer 9. In doing so, it beat Mozilla to the upgrade finish line, as Firefox 4 is still a week or two away. Google, meanwhile, debuted its Chrome 10 browser last week.

According to IE9 release candidate testing by InfoWorld's Peter Wayner, Microsoft's latest browser offers improved security and JavaScript performance. Wayner also commended some of IE9's under-the-hood improvements, such as tighter graphics integration with the user's OS and a built-in debugging tool.

On the appearance and usability fronts, IE9 showcases Microsoft's new browser philosophy. "The browser is the stage, or backdrop, for the Web, and the sites are the star of the show," said Dean Hachamovitch, product manager in charge of IE, in a post on Microsoft's IEBlog announcing the IE9 release candidate. "People go to the Web for sites, not the browser."

To that end, the interface has been simplified, reflecting a design trend seen in competitors like Chrome and Firefox. And after studying the browsing habits of end-users, Microsoft has borrowed from Windows 7's Aero Snap functionality to allow IE9 users a side-by-side view of two Web pages where they once had to switch between multiple browser tabs. Additionally, the New Tab page offers up a selection of links to the user's most-visited sites.

"Our point of view is, 'just works' involves fewer options and staying out of the user's way," said Hachamovitch.

While full hands-on testing of the official release of IE9 will have to wait until later this week, some benchmarks of the IE9 release candidate hint at its standings against the other major browsers. For example, it lags significantly on HTML5 compatibility, mustering a score of only 130, more than 100 points behind Firefox and Chrome. And when it comes to JavaScript performance, the Peacekeeper benchmark places IE9 a distant third in performance, with Chrome 10 handling JavaScript three times as fast and Firefox 10 running at twice the speed. (All tests were performed using 64-bit Windows 7 virtual machines.)

As for the potential user base, Microsoft is cutting itself off from millions of users by not making IE9 available for Windows XP systems. The company says that IE9 requires "a modern operating system" -- that is, Windows Vista or Windows 7. In particular, IE9's graphics acceleration requires Direct2D and DirectWrite DirectX APIs, which cannot be extended to the decade-old (but still popular) Windows XP.

This story, "Microsoft rolls out Internet Explorer 9," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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