I’d love to say that over the years I’ve had something of a love-hate relationship with Internet Explorer, but that would be a lie. To its credit, the hate has gotten less and less with each recent iteration; I doubt there are many who would question that IE7 was far better than IE6, and that IE8 is better than IE7.
It has been with great curiosity that I’ve waited for IE9 to arrive on the scene. Now that it’s here, I thought that I, GeekBeat.TV’s token PC guy, should take it for a spin.
IE9 Beta Cons
Let’s get the bad news out of the way first. There isn’t actually all that much of it.
The biggest problem I’ve had in my admittedly short time trying it out is that the interface isn’t finished, and really, you can’t expect full interface polish on something that’s clearly labeled a beta.
They’re going for the minimalist UI look that’s popular in browsers these days, with a definite air of Chromeishness to the layout and just a hint of Firefox musk to balance things out. It’s a good direction to go in, and I have high hopes that the final product will be nice indeed.
In this version, the address bar is quite cramped due to being stuck in between the navigation buttons and the tabs. This gives it an oddly claustrophobic feel that puts me off using it more than I need to.
The worst thing I found? It took quite a while to play the latest GeekBeat.TV episode! 30 seconds to get started. This may be due to the embedded player on GeekBeat.TV; it was quite a bit faster when I went to Revision3.com to try watching it there instead. Their player is a bit different than the one we embed on our site.
While IE9 does support HTML5, I tried it out at http://html5test.com/ which gave me some interesting results indeed. I also tested out Google’s Chrome Canary build on the same site.
html5test.com goes through a checklist of HTML5 features and a few bonus features. The browser is scored out of 300 points for supporting the required features.
- IE9 scored 96 out of 300 with 3 bonus points.
- Chrome Canary scored 241 with 12 bonus points.
- Firefox 3.6 scored 139 with 4 bonus points.
Clearly they’ve got a lot of work to do here, but the fact that they got several bonus points is encouraging, as those are awarded for features like Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) and MathML (Math Markup Language) support that aren’t necessary at all for proper support of HTML5, they’re implemented above and beyond.
Any Mac users out there want to give Safari a shot? Let us know how it does in the comments. It would also be interesting to hear from Safari for Windows users.
IE9 Beta Pros
On a more positive note, IE9 shows plenty of improvements. Most of them fall squarely into the “playing catch-up” realm, but in one big, important area, Microsoft has managed to grab a competitive position. Though Firefox barely beat them to being first, IE9 is in a pretty strong position with hardware accelerated graphics.
I ran it and other browsers through a few tests. Keep in mind I ran them all on my own system; if you try it yourself, your results may vary.
- In Microsoft’s FishIE Tank test, IE9 was able to maintain 36 frames per second with 1000 fish.
- Firefox 4 Beta 4 (with hardware acceleration) maintained 17-18 frames per second.
- Chrome Canary, the latest available build of Google’s Chrome, does not yet have hardware acceleration and struggled to maintain 3 frames per second.
- Firefox 3.6 (with no acceleration) was about the same, with 3-4 frames per second.
It will be fascinating to see how the other browsers do when they implement hardware acceleration. It will also be interesting to try similar tests on non-Microsoft sites.
Some other things Microsoft is doing right with IE9:
- Chrome-like web applications with good Windows 7 support; they can be pinned to the start menu and/or taskbar like any regular application.
- Suggested Sites for personalized browsing suggestions, based on your browsing history.
- Private Browsing, much like the equivalent features in other browsers.
- An add-on manager.
- A nicely designed download manager with integrated download search for those of you who download a LOT and never clear your history.
- Full-screen browsing, also known as Kiosk Mode in some circles.
- “Caret Browsing” which I’d never heard of before; it puts a movable cursor in pages that you can use for selecting text with the keyboard, and supports use of the regular text navigation keys – home, end, page up, page down, etc.
Internet Explorer has come a long way. This one is worthy of a good look now, and will only improve by the time the final release ships. There’s still much to be done with it, but it is definitely getting there.
It’s great to see IE getting serious about standards at last.