Microsoft Reveal IE9

Contributing Editor

IE previewMicrosoft normally make a grand announcement at their MIX conference. Last year, they launched IE8 (has it really been around for 12-months?) This year, they’ve revealed the features coming in IE9 and released a downloadable demonstration (Windows 7/Vista SP2 only).

Microsoft confirmed IE9 development in November 2009 but there were very few details. We now know more…

HTML5
Microsoft adopted a wait-and-see approach to HTML5. That may have made good business sense, but HTML5 would have been a non-starter without Microsoft’s backing. The good news is that HTML5 will be implemented in IE9 — to some level at least. Importantly, the video and audio tags are supported and Microsoft has been showing off H.264 video running at 720p in the browser.

Interestingly, IE9 will also support XHTML documents parsed with a mime-type of application/xhtml+xml. It’s about time.

CSS3
Microsoft is making the most noise about border-radius, but IE9 will also support CSS opacity, the rgba color model, and further selector definitions. That’s great, but it’s nothing new: competing browsers have offered these facilities for many years.

SVG
IE9 will finally support SVG — Scalable Vector Graphics. They’ve even produced a great version of Asteroids to demonstrate the benefits of the format. I still don’t understand why they waited so long?

Faster JavaScript
Internet Explorer has the slowest JavaScript processing of all the mainstream browsers but its new engine, named “Chakra”, will compile code in the background using a separate CPU core. The initial results look impressive, although Microsoft will have some work ahead if they want to catch Chrome, Safari and Opera.

IE9 will also utilize Windows DirectX to improve browser rendering speeds.

Standards Support
The IE team have reaffirmed their commitment to browser standards. IE9 currently scores 55/100 in the ACID3 test but it will improve. That is far better than IE8, but let’s hope they reach the perfect score offered by competing browsers.

Developer Tools
No specific details were announced, but the Developer Tools have been improved and there will be a new HTTP Inspector (Network tab) which captures requests and responses. Firebug, DragonFly and the webkit inspector already offer this facility if you want to use it today.

What We Don’t Know…
Microsoft has remained silent on two important issues:

  1. The release date. IE has settled into a 2-year schedule, so I suspect IE9 won’t be available for 12 months. That’s a considerable wait, especially if you’re eager to write HTML5-powered applications.
  2. OS support. Specifically, will IE9 run on Windows XP?

The IE9 Platform Preview only runs on Windows 7 and Vista SP2. The FAQ states:

Internet Explorer 9′s GPU-powered graphics take advantage of new technologies available in Windows 7 and back-ported only to Windows Vista. These technologies depend on advancements in the display driver model introduced first in Windows Vista.

It’s too early to talk about features [side-by-side installation with IE8 and XP compatibility] of the Internet Explorer 9 Beta.

The more distant the release date, the higher the probability IE9 won’t run on older versions of Windows. Despite strong sales of Windows 7, the vast majority of people still use XP — if they can’t upgrade, we’ll remain chained to old versions of the browser for many years to come.

Would you be tempted to switch to IE9? Will the new features be enough to match the competition? Is it too little, too late? Is the browser increasingly unimportant? Should Microsoft abandon browser development?

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  • http://www.magain.com/ Matthew Magain

    Microsoft may not be leading the charge, but this is all very, very good news for developers. Nice write-up Craig!

  • http://www.nosbod.net Nosbod

    Microsoft confirms IE9 will shun Windows XP: theregister.co.uk

    Looks like it wont be available on XP.

  • mrhoo

    There are two other areas IE9 is breaking with MS tradition- addEventListener and getComputedStyle should work in IE9 as they do in the other browsers.

    The elephant, as you mentioned, is that we are going to be supporting all those other IEs for a long time to come.

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

    Well spotted Nosbod. There’s no official statement from Microsoft yet, but IE9 on XP looks unlikely. That said, they have bowed to consumer pressure in the past and they agreed to support XP until 2014.

    However, we certainly don’t want subtly different versions of IE9 on Vista/7 and XP!

  • Stevie D

    I am unlikely to be using IE9 – not least because I’m running XP with no plans to upgrade in the next few years – but principally because I am certain that by the time IE9 makes it into the ring, I will have been enjoying all its new features in Opera for at least 6 months!

  • Arkh

    H.264 :(
    Why can’t they use an open standard like .ogg so all browser implements it and we can all use the video tag without stupid hacks and multiple formats.

  • Rui Andrada

    Hehehe, so XP user will got Vista for free soon only beacause an browser? lol, windows sucks!

  • Nick Hodge

    Craig: the long-support for XP probably comes more from large customers with support contracts. One of the costs of being an enterprise software company.

    Mrhoo: That said, getting as many of these customers off IE6 is starting to work as IE6 usage % during working hours continues to decline. IE8, which does comply with published standards still exists, gets updated as specs update (recent JSON update).

    StevieD: .ogg vs. .h264 : Msft will do what the W3C HTML5 committee and therefore specification details. As Matthew says – the charge for HTML5 is lead elsewhere.

    The other good news is that Microsoft is submitting test suites to the W3C so ACID does not become a defacto Specs-test. eg: witness the semantics of border-radius: http://ie.microsoft.com/testdrive/HTML5/01BorderRadius/Default.html

    All: now is the time to influence IE9. This browser will be with us all until we tire of the web and start coffee shops in obscure beach-side towns. Whether you think Windows “sucks” or not, Rui :-)

  • http://www.mikehealy.com.au cranial-bore

    I don’t think the term too little too late is particularly relevant. The features we can use (or rely on) as web developers are defined by the lowest common denominator amongst our audiences. With IE9 that LCD should eventually include HTML5, CSS3, SVG and XHTML which is a step up.

  • Wardrop

    Standards issues aside, IE8 is a horrible browser to use. It’s sluggish, and offers a generally poor and buggy user experience. So to me, IE8 isn’t just far behind in terms of standards, but also far behind in terms of usability and practicality. I think for years to come Microsoft won’t stop playing catch up. I just think they need to drop IE – it does more harm than good in my opinion.

  • W2ttsy

    Why havent they just adopted webkit and slapped on their own ridiculous interfaces. Everyone is always talking about needing to keep trident round to stop things getting stagnant, but seriously, when has MS ever bought anything to the web table in the last few years? They are miles behind the other players, and now we have to wait for IE9 (how many years is that) until we get half of what Firefox had two years ago.

    If they went for a webkit based solution, they could look at least offering some new features or improving their user experience, knowing that the results were being rendered in the browser correctly.

  • http://autisticcuckoo.net/ AutisticCuckoo

    I think it’s great that Microsoft is improving their support for web standards. This means we’re one step closer to the day when we don’t have to provide a separate style sheet for one browser or fork virtually all JavaScript code. It won’t happen for years, but at least we’re getting closer.

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

    @Nick
    The long term support for XP could raise an interesting legal debate. Microsoft has agreed to support and patch XP until 2014. IE is provided as part of the OS, so shouldn’t it also receive updates?

    I’ve no doubt MS couldn’t implement IE9 in XP, but it’s not really in their commercial interests. Also, if any legal cases do crop up, they could easily wait another 3 years before releasing the browser … and none of us want that!

    @W2ttsy
    Microsoft has rejected webkit for a number of reasons:

    1. They could not control the source or feature set; it could make it difficult to meet business obligations.

    2. Many desktop applications depend on Trident. Switching to webkit would cause significant upheaval for little (perceived) benefit.

    I’d also be wary about giving webkit 70%+ of the market. It would make web development easier, but it could reduce competition and restrict innovation. We experienced many years of IE6 domination and no organization should ever have that power again.

    Besides, Trident has improved … just at the pace of an arthritic snail.

  • http://logicearth.wordpress.com logic_earth

    About legalities cropping up because of Windows XP and IE9 will not happen. There is no law that says Microsoft has to provide support. Microsoft only said they will support Windows XP with security updates until 2014, that was not a promise or put into any contract form. They can cancel support right now with no legal blow back.

    Now as far as I care, Windows XP is a dead horse and has been for a long time now.

  • Michael

    Windows XP came out in 2002 … isn’t that the same time IE6 came out? Who wants you use an 8 year old version of an operating system?

    If you still use Windows XP you really can’t make a claim that “12 months is a long time to wait”.

    Also everyone should just use Ubuntu – new release every 6 month, for free.

  • Ulyses

    12 months it’s a damn long time to just sit and expect others will just wait for you.

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

    @logic_earth

    There is no law that says Microsoft has to provide support

    Actually there is — their contracts. They have agreed to support XP until 2014. For large business clients, at least.

    The interesting point is that MS have continually stated that IE is an integral part of the OS and cannot be removed. I suspect it won’t become a problem because they continue to patch IE6 — the browser installed with XP.

    However, the IE team must spend an inordinate amount of time patching and testing IE6, 7 and 8. That time could be better spent on IE9, but MS have contractual obligations.

  • Ulyses

    @Michael

    Spot on with Ubuntu! I hope the day will come when we test for IE in a VM on Ubuntu.

  • the.peregrine

    This browser will be with us all until we tire of the web and start coffee shops in obscure beach-side towns.

    It will be here, Nick, but anyone with any sense won’t be using it. Internet Explorer is the chink in Microsoft’s armor. It is the hole through which all Microsoft’s security vulnerabilities are revealed. Smart people (Fred Langa, among others) have been pointing this out since, oh, somewhere around Windows 3.1 … so I see this as a deliberate choice on Microsoft’s part, rather than a failure. Security flaws are a great way to force people to upgrade to the next release; and though I don’t want to believe that’s the rationale for them, no other explanation makes sense.

    If you value your hardware and software investment, don’t trust it to IE. Too many jerks are out there writing code exploits to take advantage of its many flaws. As a designer/developer, I’ve taken the next logical step by fully supporting web standards and shunning IE browser hacks altogether. With so many excellent alternatives available, Internet Explorer is all but irrelevant to me and my sites will render well enough to satisfy most who still use it. Good luck to them. They need all the luck they can get!

  • joybells

    So do you have stronger ties to your browser, or your operating system? I’m satisfied with XP, and I’m not sure I’d want to ditch FireFox just to get IE9. But for others, it might be a different story. However, as a web developer/ designer, I can see that I will need to make the switch, just to guarantee my testing includes the newest browser. But then what will happen to IE6 testing?

    I see the IE9 – Windows 7/ Vista link a way of drawing the line. “Kill the host to kill the parasite.”

  • Ulyses

    @joybells

    Nice point!!!

    The other side of it, could be that reincarnation would be good. Let’s think : (Ubuntu – FireFox) or maybe (GoogleOS – Chrome).

    Or maybe others will emerge. No need to adopt another child of the same infested organism :) .

  • W2ttsy

    The worst part of this is the slow uptake of new IE versions. By the time IE9 comes to the table, we will be supporting 4 versions of IE, and the worst part is that none of them are perfect. So between browser hacks, compromised code and having to test on four platforms, MS aren’t helping the development community anywhere near enough.

    @Craig. You mentioned before that MS doesnt like webkit because of the ties to trident. Perhaps their efforts would be better spent building an adaptor that allows the active X and javascript hacks that plague corporate intranets to run in something that isn’t crippled. A sort of reverse chrome frame.

  • Craig S

    Man, you really poo-pooed all over Microsoft with each point of this write-up. “That’s nice I guess, but why’d they wait so long?” “Meh.”

    Their demo at MIX was somewhat impressive.