First look: Internet Explorer 9 beta makes waves
One of the best ways to see what's changed with the ninth and newest version of Microsoft's Internet Explorer is to tune into beautyoftheweb.com and watch the words, images, and DIVs bounce around, luring the world into pretty images and information that can't sit still. "Tune in" is the appropriate verb because the experience is closer to consuming television than what the Web was once supposed to be, an endless library filled with serious knowledge that might come from an underground physics bunker in the mountains.
To get the full effect and begin to understand the shifting dynamics of the industry, the flashy graphics must be seen three or four times, but not just because they're so visually compelling. The challenge is to look at the site in different browsers and see just how similar and how slightly different it happens to be.
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Seeing the bouncing blocks in other browsers shows just how Microsoft is following the path of HTML5 blazed by the other browser groups and embraced by the standards committees. In the past, Microsoft had some of their own standards for vector graphics, but now they've decided that the pack is leading and they must keep up. The experience is very similar in all of the browsers, and that's because most of the website is written in jQuery, which manipulates the positions of the images and brings the pages to life.
But while very similar across browsers, the experience is not exactly the same, and the differences are subtle enough that Microsoft even included a little note that tells visitors who are running other browsers that the experience will be better in IE9. The biggest difference is an MP4 movie that sends a bluish, watery wave swirling across the screen. The movie won't play in Firefox 4.0 but it does show up in Chrome. The other differences may only be figments of my imagination. The dancing images seem to move more smoothly in IE9, but I'm not sure how to quantify this effect or even test whether I'm just imagining it.
Windows under the hood
Microsoft is pushing the fact that its browser is more tightly integrated with the graphics layer of their operating system, a fact that lets IE9 use the graphics board to handle much of the image swooshing. Some of Microsoft's demos even include frame rate meters just like video games.
It's important to note that the other browser groups are following this lead, and this is a way that Microsoft is regaining some technical control. Mozilla, for instance, says that its newest version of Firefox is more tightly integrated with DirectX, the video frame software layer that was once mainly used by game programmers. This helps Microsoft because it supports the idea that the Windows OS is a good platform for watching the Web.