Internet Explorer 9.0: Week 1 Review

Microsoft has reported 27 downloads per second since IE9 was released last week. I don’t doubt it: the browser received a lot of publicity and the company has pushed it hard. I’ve been using IE9 for the past 7 days. Is it good? Has it become my default browser? Read on…

IE9 Installation

Microsoft has followed Chrome’s lead with a small 530KB browser download. On installation, this requests a further 20MB which will take around 5 minutes on a reasonable net connection.

Microsoft tried hard to remove the reboot which has been a requirement since IE4. They succeeded … to an extent. The IE9 installer will ask you to shut down almost every application — including other browsers and background processes. For me, a reboot was easier.

In all, a full download, installation and reboot took less than 10 minutes. That’s not as quick as its competitors but it’s not outrageous either.

IE9 Interface

The interface has changed little since the first beta but existing IE users will be shocked by the sparse layout:

IE9 screenshot 1

A default installation has a single tool bar comprising:

  • Large back and next buttons
  • IE’s “OneBox” — Microsoft’s (better) name for Chrome’s Omnibox or Firefox’s Awesome Bar. It contains the URL with prominent domain highlighting, a search icon, HTTPS padlock icon, compatibility view icon, refresh and stop icons.
  • Tabs. Early reviews remarked about the small space available to tabs. Microsoft has addressed the criticism with a right-click option to show tabs on a separate row. Unusually, tabs appear below the address bar — just as the other vendors are moving them above.
  • Home, Favorites and Tools icons.

Like Chrome, IE9 does not show the page title in the application’s title bar. There’s room but Microsoft have opted for simplicity.

If you love IE7 and 8 (there must be someone?!), you can re-enable the menu, Favorites, Command and Status bars. They look awful in the new interface and there’s little reason to use them … unless you require RSS. IE9 supports RSS and provides a good internal reader but Microsoft has demoted it to a secondary feature. That’s probably a wise decision — most users wouldn’t know RSS if it slapped them across the face with a moist haddock.

IE9’s interface is functional but it’s quite square and angular. It’s not ugly, but it doesn’t look as good as Chrome or Opera.

New Features in IE9

Microsoft has not overloaded the browser with new features. It finally has a download manager, offers improved privacy protection and ActiveX blocking (does anyone still use ActiveX in 2011?)

As you’d expect, Windows 7 integration is excellent. You can pin sites to the taskbar or start menu, use jump lists, Aero peek and window snap. Pinned sites are effectively shortcuts to web applications which open their own IE window. Ricky Onsman recently wrote a great Windows 7/IE9 developer goodies tutorial. There are some good features but I doubt many developers will have the time or inclination to use them unless other browsers implement similar functionality.

IE9 can also display an “about:Tabs” page when starting the browser or opening a new tab:

IE9 screenshot 2

Again, it’s functional rather than good-looking — Chrome, Safari and Opera are prettier. Irritatingly, IE won’t automatically open the last browsing session. There’s a “reopen last session” link but that requires an extra click. I suspect it’s been omitted to ensure IE opens quickly, but it’d be great to have the option.

IE’s add-ons remain disappointing. The majority are corporate shopping toolbars rather than useful tools or functionality enhancements. Despite being one of the first browsers to offer extensions, IE’s development model remains entrenched in Visual Studio rather than web technologies. By contrast, Opera has supported HTML and JavaScript-based extensions for a matter of months and offers a more diverse range of useful add-ons.

IE9 Performance

If you only care about raw speed, IE9 is the browser for you. Who cares about questionable benchmarks — IE9 starts quickly and runs blazingly fast. Try the FishIETank demonstration. The page has been developed to show off IE’s prowess, but it’s noticeably faster than Chrome or Opera.

The speed gains owe much to the new JavaScript engine and graphic hardware acceleration courtesy of DirectWrite and Direct2D. However, you should note that the 64-bit edition of IE uses the old JavaScript engine and its performance is affected accordingly.

You can use a slower-running software rendering system if you experience hardware acceleration problems. I can’t resist another dig here. One of the primary reasons Microsoft dropped IE9 on XP was because it didn’t offer the same level of hardware support. So why couldn’t IE revert to software mode on the older OS?

IE9 Web Standards Support

Microsoft is committed to HTML5 and IE9 scores 95/100 in the ACID3 test and 130/400 in the HTML5 test. That may not sound particularly impressive, but it’s a huge leap from IE8. IE9 developers can finally adopt native SVG, canvas, offline storage, geolocation, audio, video and CSS3 rounded corners!

There are a number of strange omissions such as the CSS3 text-shadow property. Other browsers have supported this without a vendor prefix for many years and it’s been available as an IE filter effect for a decade?

The new browser is unlikely to pose as many development challenges as it’s predecessors. Your site will almost certainly work if it currently supports IE8, Firefox, Chrome and Opera. I’m yet to see a site break but it’s early days and problems will eventually surface.

IE9 is heading in the right direction. Let’s just hope Microsoft continue to extend the feature set with frequent updates. Microsoft — if you’re listening — I vote for HTML5 forms and JavaScript web workers!

IE9 Development Tools

IE9 retains the F12 Developer Tools dialog and there’s a new Network tab. Unfortunately, it’s clunky compared to Firebug, the webkit inspector and Opera’s Dragonfly. That’s surprising when Microsoft creates some of the best development tools in the IT industry. But let’s not be too harsh; the Developer Tools are a godsend if you experience IE-specific issues.

As well as IE9’s default rendering, the browser supports IE9 compatibility mode, IE8 mode, and IE7 mode. Each one can switch between standards and quirks view. It’ll give your test team hours of fun!

I have mixed feelings about the legacy emulators. On one hand, it’s great you can test a site in IE7 and IE8 without running a VM. On the other, you cannot rely on the modes to replicate IE7/8 identically … and why the hell are we still testing a 5 year-old browser?!! I hope Microsoft are able drop the rendering modes in the near future but, for the moment, a huge number of people continue to use IE6, 7 and 8.

There’s one final niggle. IE’s always offered fantastic XML support but you may find it’s broken in IE9 and files are rendered as plain text without validation. This fix might help: click Tools > Manage Add-ons > choose “All add-ons” > locate “XML DOM Document” > click the Disable button, then Enable it again. To see validation errors, you need to switch to IE9 compatibility view. Ugh.

Summary

Overall, IE9’s positive points outweigh the negative ones. Microsoft has produced a great, modern browser which will please web novices and developers alike.

IE9’s good points:

  • Amazing speed
  • Clean interface and good OS integration
  • Reasonable standards support (for now)
  • It’s more than we expected.

IE9’s bad points:

  • Other than speed, it’s behind the competition in most other respects
  • Few features for power users and a limited set of add-ons
  • Development tools lack polish and XML can be quirky
  • It’s limited to Windows Vista/7 and the 64-bit edition is pointless

Existing IE users should upgrade immediately (assuming they’re not using XP). Developers should install it too, but only if you have access to IE8 — that’s likely to remain the predominant version for several years.

I like IE9 but, for me, there are few compelling reasons to adopt it as my full-time default browser. It’s great for quick browsing and it’s hard to fault its speed but I can’t help thinking Microsoft has sacrificed functionality for performance.

Let’s hope IE9.1 isn’t too far away.

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  • Andrew

    They could not back-port IE9 to XP because they don’t want to support an OS that was released almost 10 years ago. XP DOES have the ability to do hardware rendering, but Microsoft does not want to act like DirectX 9 is good enough. They want to pretend that you NEED to DX11 hardware and Direct2D-ability (and Direct2D could definitely be back-ported too).

    This isn’t a great reason because now as developers we still have to support at the very least (if you are US-based, worse if you are elsewhere): IE7, IE8, IE9. If you are elsewhere, definitely consider adding IE6 to the list. And if you intend your software to be used in intranets, consider adding IE6 as well.

    And beyond that, IE9 seriously lacks a lot that Chrome and Safari (WebKit) have had for a while. One of my favourite features of HTML5 is of course, Forms and the new elements. IE9 supports NONE of them. It also has no support for the placeholder attribute, and STILL has no support for maxlength in textarea (valid in HTML5, not in XHTML1). Basic things, including text-shadow (of which I plan to use no detrimental filter fallback), are also still not supported.

    IE9 is so far behind. Even if 9.1 and 9.2 start happening (I highly doubt it will), this will only complicate things and we’ll be back to checking the user agent, and having buttons like ‘Best viewed in IE 9.x’ meanwhile the average user will have no idea what version they’re on, and without helpful menus they won’t even know how to find out. Fragmentation will only get worse.

    JS for IE9 http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/d1et7k7c(v=VS.94).aspx
    CSS http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc351024(v=vs.85).aspx#font most disappointing, but you can’t help but find this documentation useful when you are scratching your head as to why IE does what it does.

  • Tyrone

    I have IE9 and I was able to open an XML file and it looks fine. Maybe this was added at the last minute?

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

      I’ve done a little more digging and there seems to be a bug. I’ve found a possible fix and updated the post accordingly.

  • David

    Moist haddock … marvellous :)

  • Patrick Samphire

    IE remains for basic users rather than developers, I guess. Maybe they figure that they aren’t going to win over developers, so they might as well go for speed rather than things like XML support. If *I* was an ordinary user just surfing around bog-standard websites, I suspect I would appreciate speed rather than support of things that I wouldn’t miss anyway.

    It’s a shame for us, but I suspect most of the public will be happy.

    My real beef is that it’s so damned ugly. Really, with all that money, they couldn’t have come up with a decent design?

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

      But, if developers can’t work with the browser, there won’t be anything for end users to view!

      • Patrick Samphire

        Um… Developers will use FF or Chrome or Opera, and users will view what they produce on IE or another browser. Or am I missing your point?

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

        OK, so I wasn’t being totally serious but let’s say you experienced an IE9-specific problem. That’s unlikely, but not impossible. What would you do if you didn’t have IE9’s developer tools?

        A few years ago, we’d try various solutions which could take hours, have no guarantee of success and possibly break other browsers. Alternatively, you could look at the market share and think: sod it – I won’t bother supporting IE9 yet.

  • Kokos

    I actually had horrific troubles with installation, to the extent of me giving up trying out the new browser. I got a popup telling me I needed an update in order to use IE9, and then linked me to a microsoft support page that had I think like 6 different updates listed.
    Neither the installer nor the site told me which one I needed, and it still didn’t work after installing 3 random ones so I figured the browser didn’t deserve my extra time.

  • Luke Scott

    My biggest complaint is the lack-of support of text-shadow that has been supported by other browsers for years. To me there just isn’t any excuse for that. Sure they missed some HTML5 and CSS3 features… those standards are still evolving. But text-shadow was part of the CSS 2.1 spec. It’s a critical feature, especially for text over header images. Hopefully filters will still work in IE9 standards mode (although the drop shadow filter is missing blur anyway).

    • Andrew

      I wish you luck with that but I strongly discourage using filters for any reason due to performance problems.

      Give IE users what they can get but without making their system slow down all because you wanted some opacity or terrible-looking shadows.

    • Hueij

      Just nitpicking here but text-shadow was part of CSS 2 but removed from CSS 2.1 :)

      But why it isn’t supported in IE9??

  • Jon Penny

    I like IE9. It’s a decent enough browser imo. If the average user who doesn’t really know/care about browsers and they used IE 9 instead of IE6-8, as a developer I would be happy. My dad for example likes familiarity and just wants to be able to browse so IE9 would suit him.

    There is nothing that IE9 does however that makes me personally want to switch from Chrome as my main browser and definitely doesn’t make me want to switch from Firefox as my development browser.

  • gc

    too bad it is (still) not cross-platform , and you need to buy and install first in order to use any IE version.
    too bad you can run only one version … or deploy x virtual machine.

    Basic user will be very happy to see they can upadate to IE9 (if they can , hehe )

    The only buzz i see is the ego of MS that do not deflate.

  • Ramiro

    CSS support is still pretty bad. Hacks are still needed.

    • fvsch

      Not really. CSS 2.1 support was already great in IE8 (complete, and not buggy like in IE 6-7). If you require hacks for CSS 2.1 in IE8, you’re doing it wrong. And I don’t expect IE9 adds bugs to the CSS 2.1 support.

      Now, if we’re talking about specific CSS3 features, it’s likely they have some implementations in some engines (Webkit and/or Gecko and/or Presto) but not yet in IE9. If you rely on those features, you may need to use graceful degradation/progressive enhancement (no hacks needed), or to mimick those CSS3 features with JavaScript and/or DirectX filters (which can be considered hacky).

  • Neil H

    Hated it: I have Win7 Ult 64 bit OS, quad core 8 GB ram, and as I HAVE to install the 64 bit version (no choice) found that entire machine slowed terribly after install, whether IE9 Browser open or not. So regrettably, cannot have this installed on my production machine. Klunky, blisteringly slow, cancerously leeching into OS system. Had to system restore to remove ( Note: Restore point refers to ‘Microsoft Modules’ not ‘IE9′).

    Please can we just Kill IE once and for all?

    • Jon Penny

      I have a similar set up to you but my machine run’s fine. I do have a very beefy graphics card but that won’t make much of a difference. Odd how I have had no drop in performance…

  • Buzu

    The only reason IE6 exist is because developers still support it. So, I would say even if you are not in the US, or you are planning to use your software in an intranet, refuse to support IE6. Remain accessible, but not compatible, meaning display a plain tex/images website, but not more if the user is using IE6.

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

      IE6 still exists because, for many years, it was the only browser developers supported. Businesses then discovered they couldn’t upgrade their browsers without rewriting their legacy web applications.

      A web developer’s job is to create sites and apps for users — and many people remain on IE6. We may not like it, but we’re partly to blame and can’t dictate what people should and shouldn’t use.

      I’m all for degrading the IE6 experience but, unfortunately, most IE6 users won’t realize that. They’re unlikely to blame the browser — they’ll blame you for having a crap website.

    • Pcoussa

      I have just upgraded my machine to 4gb RAM I3-2100 CPU (using the onboard graphics) and installed IE9 and it runs blazingly quick. BTW I also have 64bit Win7

    • Jamie

      Hah. You must be an unemployed freelancer. Meanwhile, those of us in the real world of web development don’t want to lose customers because their websites don’t work on the 10 year old computer they’ve got in their office.

  • Vincent

    “The only reason IE6 exist is because developers still support it.” – Buzu

    False.

  • Paul Grigoruta

    Gmail breaks visually on 64-bit IE9. And I know of more sites that do.

  • Mike

    I didn’t know the 64bit version was a JS cripple. Is it possible to install the 32bit version on 64bit Windows?

    • Russ

      Mike, both 32- and 64-bit versions are installed on a 64-bit Win7 installation (my main computer is a 64-bit Win7 pro install). The biggest issue is that the vast majority of plugins are still 32-bit.
      There is a 64-bit version of Sun Java, but you’ll need to visit the Java download page with a 64-bit version of IE (you can use 64-bit Java with 64-bit Firefox, but the download page won’t display for that browser.

  • Peter

    I have really not given IE9 a good testrun, but I have noticed something that is typical of Microsoft products. To use SharePoint 2007 with IE9, you have to switch to compatibility mode (which is either IE8 or IE7). Sure – there has been a big push for everyone to move to SharePoint 2010, but there are still a lot of SharePoint 2007 sites around.
    I don’t expect this will be a huge problem – SharePoint users are already used to this phenomenon. The SharePoint rich text editor only works in IE7 (or IE8 compatibility mode).
    From a development point of view, I do like the debugger that is integrated into IE9 (developer tools), but what is the point of a cool debugger when the browser doesn’t support the technology we have access to?
    For the time being I am reserved about IE9. Firefox 4.0 is still my main browser.

    • Ricardo Conte

      Peter,

      I had the same problem with i.e 9 and Sharepoint 2010. Some sites on sharepoint cant be opened, showing me a blank page.

  • erlicthemad

    I have tried ie9 on my dual processor Athalon tower with 1.5GB of ram. Granted its an older machine but I am finding that I cannot typically load a page in IE9 before my screensaver kicks in(10 minutes). Given the choice I would take the slow IE8 that actually produces a page in a minute or so vs IE9 that just fails. I don’t even want to try the JS tests as I do need the computer to do something by the end of the day. I would think its just the machine but my FF, Chrome and Opera browser work fine on this machine.

  • steve

    I guess I’ll never know, as I use a Mac.

    • erlicthemad

      I also use a mac for dev work. But I have a dedicated machine setup only to test on. After all running windows on a Mac can be tricky especially with windows 7 that like lots of hardware.

  • anarchy
    • Patrick Samphire

      That site should have been drowned at birth (just look at the source). Any self-respecting browser should crash on it.

      • krzysu

        please..
        main purpose of every browser is to serve websites even ones written in ugly style. but if only one browser (IE9) can’t manage to display site that works in each other browser then existance of that browser is aimless..
        if developers of IE9 can’t protect users from bad experience and simple page can crush their OS so maybe it is time to stop producing browsers? or switch to webkit :)

        by the way the cause is pure.js v1 used on that page..

  • Shehzad

    Internet Explorer 9 is the best web browser as i compare to others .. Internet Explorer 9 is fast and light and very easy to use .. IE 9 will change your world of using web browser it has enormous breaking of record it,s outclass other browsers by making good downloading as i heard 27 downloads per second … I m using it right now .. no complains yet .. good for their reputation. !!

  • Dean

    Isn’t this just a preview release not the actual final release? I thought the final release was still pending and full support for a lot of features were not in place yet?

  • awasson

    I have it running on Win7 and I am pleasantly surprised.

    Firebug, er… Developer Tools is really good. Feels just like Firebug on FF. I haven’t looked for any specific troubles but I’ve looked at a few of my recent sites and it’s looking good. No troubles or weirdness. I’ll have to open some sites that have embedded media and stuff to see what’s going on.

  • noonnope

    IE9 lacks CSS3 transformations. Other than that, it’s probably what IE8 should have been.

  • Tom Wardrop

    The verdict: IE is still a piece of shit. It’s the same story every release. It’s better than the last, but still falls quite a distance short of the rest of the browser market. Microsoft is playing a continuous game of catchup that will never end unless IE dies a hopefully quick, but excruciating death.

    Microsoft will never drop IE though, as they will hate the thought of giving up control over a browser. Thinking Microsoft would learn, one should note that SharePoint 2010 still uses Active X controls. You would think Microsoft would have learnt their lesson. Microsoft reminds me of a child with mental, emotional and learning disabilities – but much worse.

  • Gabe

    I’m using Firefox, IE9 and Chrome (latest versions).
    The way I test is the following – I do my day to day stuff as a regular user (browsing, downloading, social networking, streaming music / videos online) and my verdict is really, really simple – the browser that burdens my machine the least is a clear winner.
    Forget about css here and there, this thing doesn’t work or that thing doesn’t work or developer tools here have x and there they have y – that bothers me as a developer and not as a regular user.

    And this is the deal – Firefox and IE9 are a piece of shit. Period and amen on that. I left FF4 and IE9 overnight to play a Grooveshark playlist – result is that both are taking up 1gb+ of RAM.

    Chrome – 86 megs at max.

    Thank you Google for the Chrome, I’ll never abandon it.

  • Geoff

    While rendering a single page in IE9 (screen view) is fast, I find it surprisingly -slow scrolling down the rendered page.

  • noonnope

    That’s a bit harsh. On FF4! LOL

    Ch is fast, maybe, when you browse a limited number of sites. That is, if you open a limited number of tabs.

    Ch is fast, maybe, but it lacks precision. The whole thing looks like made in a hurry. Nothing fits, renders right and smooth. I’ve test it, I’m not talking out of my ass.

    So, thank you Google for a fast car. A fast car breaking my butt, hurting my eyes. No thank you.

    If you want fast and don’t care about the results, as a user and as a developer, use Lynx. You’re far better off.

    But, if you care how users see your page, if you care that they might neglect your effort because Ch “forget[s] about css here and there, this thing doesn’t work or that thing doesn’t work”, if you care that it may hurt your business, if, as a user, you care about privacy, then, and only then, you have something to be thankful to Google.

  • Amiram

    For me, none of the so-called improvements of IE9 can justify the removal of the page title. I’m back to IE8.

  • IngaMari

    I have VISTA on my 4 yo computer. I’ve downloaded IE9 twice–it caused a conflict and Adobe Acrobat will not print website-based PDFs. My computer has failed to start twice and I had to restore which got rid of IE9 (however, I have to check to see that all files associated with it are gone).
    I would not recommend downloading it yet.