IE9: Good enough to beat Firefox and Chrome?

The IE9 public beta may already have hit more than 2 million downloads, but its future is as cloudy as ever

I remember when I broke up with Internet Explorer. Microsoft had let IE go to seed, with no significant updates in the five years after IE6 shipped in 2001.

A scrappy group of brilliant programmers, led by Blake Ross and Dave Hyatt, came up with a free program that supported -- shock! -- tabs inside the browser. Firefox started gaining street cred. Knocked out of its lethargy, in late 2006 Microsoft released IE7 (with -- shock! -- tabs inside the browser) and the Firefox team released Firefox 2. It took me all of two days to dump IE and start using Firefox, almost exclusively.

[ Check out InfoWorld's First look at the Internet Explorer 9 beta. | Which Web browser is the most secure? Download InfoWorld's PDF report, "Web Browser Security Deep Dive: How to stay secure on the Internet." ]

Fast-forward four years and the Firefox folks have brought dozens of important new features to my desktop. I'm also using Chrome frequently, and it's even more innovative than Firefox -- simply brilliant. Meanwhile, Microsoft has brought a bunch of ... uh ... er... let me see if I can think of a single innovation I use that debuted with IE7 or IE8.

I'll get back to you on that.

Microsoft released a stable beta version of Internet Explorer 9 last week, and I've been taking it through its paces. I've been very pleasantly surprised to see that IE9 catches up with most of the innovations in Firefox 3 and Chrome 6. I've been even more surprised to see that IE9 actually includes a few new, useful features.

The official Exploring IE blog reports more than 2 million downloads of the IE9 beta in the first two days. You, too, can join the fray by starting at Microsoft's Beauty of the Web site, an extended advertising experience. Although it isn't wise to run beta software on a production PC (and if you have crucial add-ins, don't install a beta version, please), you can pick up Firefox 4 Beta 6 at the Mozilla beta site. Chrome's latest, which isn't as stable as the others, can be obtained at the Chrome 7 Canary Version download site.

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