The IE9 Beta Review

Contributing Editor

It’s here. IE9 beta 1 arrived 18 months after the release of IE8. Microsoft promised a significant update but have they delivered? This review has been written after a few hours use. They’re first impressions so my opinion may change over time…

Installation

IE9 beta can be downloaded from beautyoftheweb.com. It’s a cheeky domain name but Microsoft has produced an impressive website. I was certain they’d cheated with a sprinkling of Silverlight, but it’s mostly HTML5 and jQuery loveliness.

The 32-bit and 64-bit versions for Windows 7 and Vista are available. If you’re hoping the 64-bit edition would allow you to retain a 32-bit IE8, you’ll be as disappointed — both versions are updated. The file is 2.4MB but additional components are downloaded during the installation process. The full install takes around 15 minutes including a reboot. I still find that slightly ridiculous for a browser, but it’s no worse than previous versions.

Interface

There are no real surprises; IE9′s interface matches the leaked screenshot. We all scrutinized that image even though 33% of SitePoint poll respondents considered it to be a fake!

IE9 screenshotIE9′s interface – click for full size view

IE9 optionsThe single main toolbar contains back, next, the address bar (with compatibility view, refresh, and stop icons), tabs, home, favorites, and tools. There isn’t much space for the tabs and they shrink rapidly. You can resize the address bar, but I’m surprised Microsoft didn’t use the empty title bar space. Page titles are never displayed so I suspect tabs could move up in a future beta.

The tool options are logical although I’d question the ordering. Should ‘Print’ appear at the top? Perhaps it’s because Microsoft want to show off IE’s printing facilities — they’re far superior to all other browsers.

Unfortunately, IE9 retains the thoroughly confusing Internet Options dialog. There’s too much jargon, unusual choices, and little help for novices. Power users will also struggle with strange omissions, e.g. Notepad remains the default HTML editor and it’s not possible to start IE with previously opened tabs.

The favorites, command and status bars are still available should you need them — right-click an icon or an empty tab area. Unfortunately, IE9′s shows it roots and it’s not pretty…

IE9 screenshotIE9 with the favorites and command bar – click for full size view

As you’d expect, Windows 7 integration is excellent and IE9 takes full advantage of taskbar features such as aero peek and jump lists. It works well, although I would have liked to see previews when hovering over tiny tabs. The Quick Tabs screen has also disappeared?

IE9 screenshotIE9 Windows 7 features – click for full size view

Overall, the default interface is clean, unobtrusive, and obviously influenced by Chrome. There are a few niggles such as the cropped back button and reduced tab space but it’s a vast improvement on IE7/8.

IE9 logoIf I could have one final nitpick, it’s the logo. What were Microsoft thinking? It’s never been particularly imaginative, but the new toy-town version isn’t any better!

Speed and stability

IE9 is fast. Seriously fast. If speed was the only reason you switched to Chrome, IE9 will soon become your default browser. A cold start takes 2 or 3 seconds at most. Following that, opening and closing IE is instantaneous and the browser always feels responsive. Page rendering is quick and DirectX is evident when viewing videos or fast animations.

I suspect Microsoft are using pre-caching memory-hogging jiggery-pokery. Additionally, IE9 doesn’t restore previously opened tabs which reduces start times further. Few users will care — they will simply appreciate IE9′s speed and responsiveness.

Like Chrome, each IE9 tab runs as a separate Windows process and typically uses between 6 and 60MB depending on the content. Chrome appears to use slightly less memory per tab but launches more processes, so they’re roughly comparable. Stability is good for a beta product — I did experience a crash and a few one-off page load failures, but the browser tabs remained open.

The SunSpider benchmark reports some interesting JavaScript speed results. On a my PC, Chrome scores 690ms with IE9 32-bit slightly behind at 811ms. That’s a significant improvement on IE8, but the IE9 64-bit edition is far slower at 3,407ms.

To verify the results, I ran my recent JavaScript string concatenation test and it was even more bizarre:

  • IE9 32-bit string concatenation operator: 5ms
  • IE9 32-bit array join: 630ms
  • IE9 64-bit string concatenation operator: 12ms
  • IE9 64-bit array join: 1,025ms

Concatenation operators in IE9 are faster than IE8, but array joins are significantly worse — around 10 times slower. And why is the 32-bit IE9 twice as fast as the 64-bit edition on a 64-bit OS?

In practice, I doubt many people will experience sluggish JavaScript performance. IE9 is catching Chrome, but the IE team should address the 64-bit issues.

Web standards

I’m yet to encounter significant layout issues during my limited time with the browser. IE9 hasn’t thrown any surprises and rendering is as good or better than I expected.

HTML5 has finally arrived. IE9 beta scores a fairly low 96/300 at html5test.com but many important facilities are available including most new tags, audio, video, SVG, and canvas. The browser is missing features such as HTML5 input types, geolocation, and drag and drop so we can only hope Microsoft choose to add support in a future build.

CSS3 is a little patchy, but new selectors and media queries are well supported as are more frequently-used properties such as multiple backgrounds, box-shadow, border-radius, opacity, rgba and hsla. IE9 scores 92/100 in the ACID3 test — lower than it’s competitors but significantly better than IE8.

Development tools

IE9′s Developer Tools have improved a little since IE8 with the addition of a new Network tab to analyze traffic and latency:

IE9 screenshotIE9 developer tools – click for full size view

It’s a welcome addition, but it’s clunky and less usable than Firebug’s Net tab or Webkit’s Developer Tools Resources panel.

IE’s Developer Tools have always felt like a rushed component bolted onto the browser a few minutes before release. It’s useful, but the interface requires a design and usability overhaul. I’d have expected more from the company which produces Visual Studio.

Summary

It’s early days for IE9, but it’s already apparent that the browser has taken a giant step beyond its predecessors. IE8 fans will still recognize their browser and some previously disaffected users will return.

The simpler interface and amazing speed are the key improvements — I will certainly use it for fast-browsing situations, perhaps in preference to Opera or Chrome. That said, IE9 isn’t perfect; the interface requires tweaking and many HTML5 features are missing. The lack of XP support and sedate update schedule is also worrying.

The IE team have much work to do before the final release, but the IE9 beta is impressive. Microsoft is back in the browser game.

Do you like IE9? Please leave your comments below or cast your vote on the SitePoint poll.

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  • MSCRM User

    IE9 Doesn’t work with Microsoft Dynamics CRM – Given that IE9 replaces IE8 on install and that Crm requires IE (other browsers are not supported), this means that anyone using Crm MUST NOT upgrade to IE9 until these issues are resolved. At first it appears as though it works, but when you start to try doing things all sorts of issues become apparent. Save doesn’t work, page’s crash on closing… etc…

    So, consider yourselves warned…

    • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

      Thanks for the information.

      CRM was developed to work with IE8 only, so the fact you can’t upgrade is a huge oversight on Microsoft’s part. I suspect some SharePoint systems will also have trouble with IE9.

      • bob e

        No problem with SharePoint 2007 ot Sharepoint 2010 using IE9

      • http://www.rwtconsultants.com israelisassi

        It’s a Beta release.

    • pablop

      you can run IE 8 for CRM without even having to install it.
      Try this http://www.spoon.net/Browsers
      It’s awesome !!.
      This way you can keep trying IE 9 beta.
      Hope it helps,
      PP [twitter.com/pabloperalta]

  • http://www.bluesulphur.com squig

    Useful review – thanks for sharing :-)
    I take it you meant 32-bit for the first two rows of results for your JS string concatenation test and 64-bit for the second two rows? You put 32-bit for all 4 rows.

    • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

      Thanks squig – yes, that was a mistake. Thanks for spotting it — it’s been fixed.

  • ahallicks

    One thing I loved immediately was that when I removed an add-on it told me exactly how long it took to load that add-on, and therefore slow the browsers initial load-time.

    This is something I think Firefox need to address as a lot of their add-ons aren’t built with optimisation in mind and adding just a couple of them slows it down now end.

    Had a play around on Chrome Experiments and was, on the whole, really impressed! Everything worked, and most of it worked as well as, if not faster than Chrome itself!

    I’m going to be optimistic despite the fact that market share numbers for IE9 upgrades aren’t going to be as significant as we’d all like due to XP users (and Vista SP1 users) not able to install and run it.

  • Kolama

    Check Facebook, Twitter, Email and Windows Live buttons on the upper right corner of http://www.beautyoftheweb.com . Still not linked correctly :)

  • Paul

    Three out of three websites didn’t work for me so I gave up.

    Hootsuite, Google Docs and Code ‘n’ run, I know its beta but Opera’s snapshots work better!

    See how it goes I guess. My major concern with IE is Microsofts update schedule, will they release IE9 and then forget about it, only providing updates when someone finds an exploit?

    With others having regular release cycles, do Microsoft intend to learn from this?

    Also, this don’t solve any issues with IE6 & 7 as IE9 is Win 7 and Vista only, we will still be wasting time fixing IEs quirks with conditional stylesheets etc.

    I just wish Microsoft would quit to be honest, you can’t polish a turd.

    • http://logicearth.wordpress.com logic_earth

      “Three out of three websites didn’t work for me so I gave up.

      Hootsuite, Google Docs and Code ‘n’ run, I know its beta but Opera’s snapshots work better!”

      I imagine those sites above are trying to correct for IE’s difference using unsupported “User Agent” sniffing. However IE 9 fixed all those problems. So of course they are not going to function like they should.

      Turn on IE 9′s Compatibility Mode for them. Broken page icon next to the address bar.

  • joezim007

    I really don’t know how to feel. Plenty of good improvements, yet not enough improvements and a lot of really odd and dumb choices. I really hope that you can move the tabs to their own bar in the future because I already run out of space for tabs on Firefox – where tabs have their own row – with a 1600px wide monitor.

    I personally thought that the leaked screenshot was a fake because I didn’t think Microsoft was stupid enough to make a change like that. Seriously, in the past few years they’ve been making amazing decisions (Office, Win7, etc) (BTW, I LOVE the ribbon on Office 2007/2010), especially when it comes to interface design. This was a bad one.

    If you’re like some of my teachers who still don’t understand that you can have multiple tabs open at once, then this isn’t really a problem, but a power user would die because of this.

    I do like the support for HTML5 and CSS3, but it still has a little way to go before I’m satisfied.

    • James

      You’ve found the target audience!

  • Peter

    I don’t see the border-radius on IE9????

  • Piyal Kundu

    Is this version of IE have regular update feature like FF or Chrome?

  • Cassandra_IETeam

    Hi Craig,

    Thanks for the great review of IE9 and sharing the Beauty of the Web site. I was happy to see in your last post that you were excited for IE9 and I’m even more happy to see that we’ve met your expectations. Keep in mind that IE9 is in beta so there is still work to be done and we welcome everyone’s feedback at Microsoft Connect – http://connect.microsoft.com/

    Enjoy IE9 Beta!

    Cheers,
    Cassandra
    IE Outreach Team

  • Eric Lawrence [MSFT]

    Your benchmarks run faster in 32bit IE than 64bit IE because the JavaScript engine in IE32 Just-in-Time (JIT) compiles to native code.

    The little-used 64bit version of IE only has an improved (vs IE8) interpreter but no JIT.

    • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

      Thanks for the information, Eric. It’s still strange that large array joins are slower in IE9 (32 and 64-bit) than IE8? It’s not a major problem in itself, but is surprising.

  • http://www.sitepoint.com AlexW

    @lilainoz, @markcipolla went to the IE9 Launch party in Melbourne last night. All in all fairly impressed. Seems quite speedy, and gets out of the way which is a nice start.

  • http://www.yacare.fr McBenny

    Well, what an impressive look for a MS product !
    I ‘m still not convinced by the position of the buttons (like on Chrome and Safari by the way). The tabs should obviously be repositionned, there is no place for them, and I’m on a 1920px wide !

    I’ve experienced some strange behaviours with a gallery plug-in of jQuery but it may come from the plugin itself.

    The bad news is that as developers, we will have to support 4 different versions of Internet Explorer ! If you add webkit and Gecko, we’ll have to increase our billing rates ;-).
    I’m glad that browser manufacturers improve their products, add some support for new languages but as a developer, I’m quite perplex : how can you code your page when things are moving too fast ?
    You make the effort to support all browsers, you even produce some additional code to enhance disabilities of certain browsers and suddenly, a few monthes later, an update of the browser crashes what you’ve done ! Once a website is launched, of course it has to be updated but small companies that don’t have “maintenance program” do not update their site to support new versions of browsers, and they think that the agency that produced the site has s*rewed them !
    I don’t think that things must not change but when I see Chrome that went from 0.9 to 6.0 in two years…

    • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

      how can you code your page when things are moving too fast ?

      Adhere to web standards and test often.

      OK, so it’s never that simple, but it’s possible to produce a great-looking site which works in all browsers.

      As for Chrome versions, I wouldn’t worry too much. The differences between v1 and v6 are relatively minor compared to most browsers. In addition, Chrome updates are automatic so most users get the latest version soon after it’s released.

  • Sphamandla

    Thanks for the review it out come is far better then I had imagined it would so big up to the Microsoft team on a faster and simpler design on their new browser version. Interesting to see how well they will support html5 in future releases though !

  • Uncle Sam

    Maybe stupid question, but how can you resize the address bar?
    Right now it’s very annoying and too little, even on a 23″ WS

    • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

      You should be able to drag the space between the right-hand edge of the address bar and the first tab.

  • P Ziecina

    Hi

    After testing the IE9 beta, I think people should be aware of some important problems with regard to using flash, Sifr and lightbox plug-ins, (these include some jQuery lightboxes.

    Also when used with the Adobe Spry menu framework any drop down menus that overlay flash items are in some configs ‘disabled’, (may also occur with other menu systems, still checking).
    I have written about these problems on the Adobe dreamweaver forum in slightly more detail, at – http://forums.adobe.com/thread/598255?tstart=30.

    PZ

  • Justen

    You know, I really am glad that IE9 has some standards support and HTML5 features. Technically it’s a wonderful advancement that should put IE users only a year or two behind the times (and leave them there till the next release three years down the line, but I digress).

    But that interface, wow. Ouch. It takes the innovations of Opera, so gracefully reproduced in Chrome and Safari, tosses in Firefox’s cockeyed back button without making space for it seemingly as an afterthought and mutilates the aesthetics of both with all the elegance of a slasher villain. Microsoft has never been exactly on the cutting edge when it comes to UI design but that is a visual abortion for the ages. That kind of ugly is nearly enough to ruin my day.

  • kwing

    Far better than lower versions of IE.. But I must say the responsiveness improved a lot!

  • Eric

    I liked the poll but two of the answers should have been combined – I would have preferred to vote for “It’s much better, but it’s still IE”.

  • ricktheartist

    I would like to answer the poll, because I would like to see the results. But I do not want to skew them and there is no answer “I don;t use it, I’m on XP”

  • Nick

    Does/will IE9 support offline manifest and WEB SQL or IndexedDB?

  • IE9 User

    I was a long-time Opera user, and then switched to FireFox (I didn’t like Chrome) because Opera has problems with too many pages, but after using the IE9 beta, the other browsers all seem slow, ugly (e.g. poor text rendering) and outdated.
    I don’t like putting the address bar in the same row as the tabs, and there should be an option to re-open the old tabs when starting up, but even with those defects it’s still better than the other browsers. After only using IE for ActiveX pages, it’s strange to be using it all the time, but it’s finally overtaken the competition. It’s just better.