Internet Explorer used to reign over the web browser client kingdom with a seemingly vice-like grip, but the latest statistics suggest that the Microsoft market share crown is slipping significantly. Although Chrome only has a 7.98 percent share according to one recent report, it has carved that out in a relatively small period of time. Firefox, on 22.96 percent continues to climb but Internet Explorer has slipped to 'just' 59.65 percent. OK, so that remains a pretty dominant position to be in, but when you consider that not so long ago Microsoft was looking at a browser market-share of 90 percent the need for Internet Explorer 9 to be a success on a playing field that is starting to even out somewhat becomes all too clear.
So just how likely is Microsoft to succeed in turning the browser client market-share tide? DaniWeb has been taking a close look at the latest Internet Explorer 9 Beta in order to find out.Performance matters...
Measuring the real world performance of a web browser client can be a tricky thing to accomplish, not least as there are so many varying metrics that can be applied. However, for most people you can safely say that speed and usability are the two things that carry the most weight in the performance arena: a browser is about as useful as a chocolate teapot if it isn't easy to live with, and can render most everything thrown at it both quickly and accurately.
Speedy does it?
OK, so we have already established that speed is just one half of the real world, real user, performance metric which means that it must be time to take a look at the usability of Internet Explorer 9.
Ease of use
We like the move away from the 'in your face' notification pop-ups of old Internet Explorer incarnations, and love the minimalist and slim slide-ups at the bottom of the screen. Far less intrusive to your browsing experience while imparting the same amount of information in just as timely a fashion. Someone at Microsoft has been investing a lot of time into getting the UI right this time around we think. Similarly, just hit F12 and a developer tools kit slides up from the bottom of the screen to reveal access to HTML, CSS, Console, Script and validation tools.
On our Windows 7 machine we rather liked the ability to 'pin' a web site shortcut to the taskbar or desktop with a simple drag and drop feature. If you keep the same few sites open all the time, such as your webmail, Twitter and DaniWeb of course, then being able to hook these out of the rather cramped IE9 tab bunching and pin them next to the Windows taskbar is really very cool indeed. As, for that matter, is the ability for this pinned site icon to reveal a jumplist with a simple right click assuming that the site in question supports jumplists of course. Twitter is a good example of a site that does, so pin your Twitter page and a right click lets you compose a new tweet, check for mentions or search, for example. Jumplist support is a natural extension of the whole hyperlink basis of the web, but bringing those navigation links out of the browser client and onto the desktop by way of easily accessed structured lists. Apparently the length of the address bar was determined by the length of the top 2000 domain names to ensure that, for the most part at least, there should never be a problem typing a long URL into it. While we could easily live without the 'omnibar' or 'One Box' name that Microsoft has given the combined address and search bar, we do rather like the drop-down menu at the edge of the thing which reveals your recent history and even allows for hotswapping of default search engines. It's all about speed and ease of use, and in this respect it may look like IE9 is checking the right boxes so far. Some might argue that users who are happy with the existing look of older versions of Internet Explorer will take some getting used to the whole new interface experience that IE9 brings with it, the truth is that the UI design team have done such a good job of getting the look and feel right that it really should be no big deal. Users of Chrome and Firefox, on the other hand, will immediately be right at home here which may be important if Microsoft is hoping to attract back those who have departed for browser client pastures new during the last couple of years. It's a shame the same thought was not put into tab placement though. Microsoft will insist that user research suggests most people have no more than four tabs open at the same time, most of the time. Which is why, we assume, the decision was taken to place tabs to the right of the 'omnibar' which is a relative small amount of screen estate. It looks fine right up to four tabs open, but more than that and the interface gets very crowded. Tab placement is not customisable in any way, and as such we cannot see many power users moving back from either Chrome or Firefox which have much more accommodating arrangements for multiple tabs. And, being impatient types, we would also prefer a one-click method of closing tabs rather than being required to click to select a tab and then click again to close it.Setting the standard
We like the inclusion of the malware checking download manager that scans your files before you can run them, and finally enables you to view your current download progress and recent download history alike. The SmartScreen filtering remains, and IE9 promises to continue the good work in improving Microsoft browser client security that really started with IE8. That client version remains less than impressive when it comes to web standards support though. Not so IE9 which has really grasped the standards nettle to good effect, achieving a highly respectable 95 percent score on the industry Acid3 standards test. To put this into perspective, IE8 could only manage 20 percent and even the latest Firefox incarnation cannot beat it (although it does almost as well) on 94 percent. Microsoft still has some way left to go in the search for standards perfection, however, with both Chrome and Opera hitting the magic 100 percent score in the Acid3 test.
CSS3 support has also improved with IE9, not least when it comes to rounded corners with border-radius property, CSS3 namespaces, values, selectors and media queries to name a few. The Trident rendering engine is, it would seem, starting to reach the same levels as Gecko and Webkit have long since attained. And then, of course, there is the much hyped HTML5 support. Indeed, this was used to good effect during the official UK press launch (which featured an exclusive video produced by the Gorillaz) with the content-rich HTML5 'Club Room' at the Gorillaz website proving just how fast 3D rendered graphics and streaming video can be with IE9. Of course, HTML5 is still very much a working draft and so subject to change, but for now at least IE9 supports the new video and audio HTML elements, canvas, scaling vector graphics (SVG), selection interface and interoperable HTML parsing.Conclusion
We know what you want, you want us to tell you if you should swap back from Chrome or Firefox to Internet Explorer 9 don't you? Our advice would be to wait until IE9 is out of Beta and both Chrome and Firefox have versioned up before rushing to decide. If you do want to try the Beta out be aware that it will overwrite your existing Internet Explorer installation and reverting back is a bit more complicated than clicking on an 'I've changed my mind' button. However, if you do make the change you will discover a web browser with a very clean and minimalist feel that delivers an enjoyable and efficient web experience. The problem for Microsoft is that the same can also be said of Chrome and Firefox. IE9 puts Microsoft firmly back in the web browser client game, no doubt about that, but whether it's too late to change the final score remains to be seen.