With IE9, Microsoft gambles on HTML5, H.264 video

After years of going its own way, Microsoft's browser is moving in the right direction: standards, performance, and HTML5

Earlier this month, Microsoft issued its second developer-oriented preview release of Internet Explorer 9.0. You can take it out for a test-drive or see the demos on the test site, which displays performance enhancements, HTML5 interoperability (causing a bit of a stir), and graphical demonstrations.

Yielding to standards

In a quest to amend the company's reputation for ignoring Web standards, Microsoft has provided more than 7,000 new compliance tests to the W3C, the standards body in charge of finalizing the in-progress HTML5 and CSS3 standards. Microsoft hopes its support for HTML5, DOM, and CSS3, in addition to new compatibility with a host of other standards-based HTML, scripting, and formatting, wil improve its Acid3 scores (a common though oft-criticized test of standards compliance for browsers). Currently, the IE9 beta scores of 68 out of 100, a far cry from Firefox 3.6's score of 94 but a huge jump from IE8's score of 20 and IE7's score of 14.

[ InfoWorld's Neil McAllister explains what to expect in HTML5 -- and why today's HTML is so messy to work with. | Keep up on the latest Windows news and insights with InfoWorld's Technology: Windows newsletter. ]

Ultimately, standards are established so that developers can create sites that function and interoperate well without making too many -- or in a perfect world, any -- modifications for different browsers. Personally, I have a developer who usually jumps through hoops to make sure my site is viewable in IE, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, and Apple Safari, and I'm sure you go through the same hassle. All that repeated testing steals time and effort away from creativity, so a closer connection to standards on IE's part would be much appreciated.

Creative performance gains

IE9 is using a new JavaScript engine called Chakra that was designed to improve the speed of script processing. (Oddly enough, "chakra" is a Sanskrit word that means "wheel" or "turning," according to Wikipedia. The name likely refers to the vortex of energy in Hindu spiritualism, not "spinning the wheel" -- oh well.) One thing Chakra does is run a separate background thread in tandem with other processes on another core if one is available, taking advantage of the current multicore systems that many users now have.

IE9 is the first browser to support a GPU for hardware-accelerated SVG support. (SVG is the Scalable Vector Graphics fomat natively supported by all of IE's competitors; IE9 finally closes that gap.) No longer relegated to just video games, which tend to use vector graphics, GPU-based acceleration is one of the hot performance technologies gaining mainstream app adoption, such as in Apple's Mac OS X Snow Leopard and Microsoft's Windows 7. IE9 also now uses Windows' vector-oriented DirectX as its rendering engine rather than Windows' old-time, pixel-oriented GDI engine. These two changes should enhance IE's performance and let developers safely add more bling to their sites.

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