Can Microsoft take on Chrome and Firefox with Internet Explorer 9?

happygeek 2 Tallied Votes 947 Views Share
Clean and minimal bloat-free interface, improved standards support, hardware acceleration and better JavaScript rendering, pinned sites and jumplist support
Tab placement cramped, real world speed could be faster
IE9 is, without any shadow of a doubt, shaping up to be by far the best Internet Explorer yet. Not least as it draws upon some of the best interface and functionality features of increasingly popular competing browser clients. Still, that's no bad thing when you end up with a web browser that's as easy and generally enjoyable as this one to use.

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?

To address the 'quickly' issue, Microsoft has equipped Internet Explorer 9 with a JavaScript engine called Chakra to compile the JavaScript (an interpreted language, remember, which will always run slower than a compiled one) using a separate CPU core in the background and in parallel to running Internet Explorer itself. This parallel code compiling should mean that web pages load more quickly, and testing Chakra using the SunSpider JavaScript Benchmark would certainly suggest that Microsoft has got this right in IE9. This works by seeing how quickly the JavaScript engine can execute the kind of 3D, search and string algorithms (to name but a few) that the client experiences when browsing the web. Comparing the IE9 Beta to IE8, running on a Windows 7 equipped machine, the improvement with Chakra was a more than worthy sevenfold performance increase.

IE9 has hardware acceleration in order to make graphics rendering quicker, and the new Chakra JavaScript engine is also much more efficient, making IE9 appear to be a faster proposition on paper than ever. Hardware acceleration promises exactly what you might imagine, handing off intensive graphics rendering to the GPU rather than leaving it to the CPU to handle. Unfortunately, at the moment at least, outside of the IE9 demo sites there are few HTML5 sites out there which can showcase this speed boost. Indeed, in our DaniWeb real world speed tests which measured loading times of several different 'live' websites and services, IE9 still lagged behind Chrome, Safari and Opera in terms of raw speed. That doesn't mean that hardware acceleration isn't a good thing, the demo sites do truly woosh by, it just means that you might have to wait some time before enough sites start using it for you to really notice the difference.

Of course, using JavaScript benchmarking systems and looking at 'demo sites' is not the be all and end all of real world browser speed measurement. In the same way that the fuel consumption of your car is never accurately reflected by the manufacturer miles per gallon figures which are produced by test drivers on test tracks rather than Average Joe on the road, so differences in usage will come into play when a browser client is speed tested doing real world things. Which is why DaniWeb has undertaken an extended set of just such real world tests, covering the Internet Explorer 9 Beta as well as Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari and Opera . You can see the full results of our real world speed testing here .

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.

Member Avatar for diafol

Nice piece. However, for developers, does it really matter? IE is a victim of its own (dubious) success. Most 'lay-users' won't upgrade, with the majority sticking with IE7 and 8 - and, Dog help us, IE6. Developers will still be stuck with hacks, or progressive enhancement and such like for the next 5 years, if not more! If IE9 is targeting new users, great. But will IT-savvy users use IE9 as opposed to those browsers which are fully standards-compliant? I'm pretty stuck with the 'so what' attitude at the moment. This isn't MS-bashing. Are there any new ideas here that other browsers haven't implemented in some way, be it in the naked form or via plugins? I'm don't know what all that 'pinned stuff' is about though. It seems that I've seen the screenshots somewhere before - oh yes -

omnibar from Chrome;
big back button from FF skins;
consoles from prettyn much every other browser;
popular sites from..., yep again, pretty much every other browser;

Looks like MS has had a look at the best from the rest and stolen some ideas. Perhaps that just glib. OK shutting up before Gates puts out a hit on me.

commented: Agree 100% +11
happygeek 2,411 Most Valuable Poster Team Colleague Featured Poster

>Looks like MS has had a look at the best from the rest and stolen some ideas

You are not wrong there at all, in my opinion. I think it is very obvious that in going back to the drawing board and starting again as far as the IE9 UI is concerned, what has actually happened is that MS has finally gone and looked at the competition and it has suddenly dawned on them why IE has been leaking market share.

azmike 0 Newbie Poster

Does your browser do what you need it to do? Firefox, Chrome, Opera offer some great features and it seems every time I use Explorer it has been slow and very glichy. I am not bashing Microsoft I am only telling what my experience has been. I use all three of the afore mentioned and their features and speed are acceptable to me. I may give IE9 a try to see if it can be added to my library of browsers.

Adrian Kiwee -2 Newbie Poster

I think Microsoft has made some pretty awful browsers so far. Being a coder, I often had to write the pages to fit IE rather than the web standards. This is about to change, though. I have installed the beta and it works pretty well. Not sure exactly how fast will it be, but at least it will show my code correctly. That's all I care about right now. Of course, I'll continue using Firefox as default, but that will never change.

Member Avatar for diafol

Never's a long time AK! I will continue to look for the best day-to-day browser. At the moment my choice is Chrome. If I find IE9 is better, I'll use that. However, I suspect that by the time IE9 is out of beta, the other browsers may have taken another incremental notch up towards the perfectly standards-compliant (HTML5/CSS3 etc) ladder. My 2p.

happygeek commented: Agreed! +11
happygeek 2,411 Most Valuable Poster Team Colleague Featured Poster

I see your 2p and raise you a penny :)

Member Avatar for diafol

Aha, Grasshopper he very grateful.

Now, could somebody explain why browser 'vendors' build browsers that aren't fully compliant? After all, the specs html5, css3, js have been out for quite some time. I realise that there's a lot of tricky stuff to do regarding the coding, but surely, it shouldn't be beyond the realms of possibility to make one that just works. Is it due to the fact that most of them don't make much money, if at all? Is it due to their relaese cycles being too narrow? What gives? I'm not having a rant, I'm just curious.

And BTW, will IE9 be able to do Ajax without ActiveX?

Adrian Kiwee -2 Newbie Poster

I agree, ardav. Firefox already got it's 4.0 beta out. But competition is always good for the daily users.
I think the browsers are not fully compliant because the creators do take into account facts like the majority of people are using older versions of the browsers, the competition doesn't do it either, the percentage of people expressing desire for full support on the new technologies is very small, "what works don't change", and finally, why not, there are not that much money to be made here. At least i know i only use free plugins...

johnbrown12 -2 Newbie Poster

i heard about the launching of ie9 and i am eagerly waiting for its stable release, after the release of mozilla firefox 4 beta, microsoft's ie also fastened up their seat belts to show the people out there the latest version of ie9 , i hope that i.e 9 is fast enough to make it worth, or its useless to use it when we have firefox and chrome, but i believe its latest features like enhanced CSS3 support and more features, i hope it doesnt crashes as often as chrome, and when talking about looks, it looks decent :)


happygeek commented: please do not advertise in your posts -2
Member Avatar for diafol

Thaks AK.

Diamonddrake 397 Master Poster

I've been playing around with different browsers, I'm a big fan of FireFox because it works well on older machines, and scrolls smoother than IE 7 and 8. With the exception of the tab bar placement The interface is very usable. Seems to work fine. I could imagine that if they fix the tab placement I might use it.

Hard to say, I feel like FireFox has the perfect usage of space to decrease time it takes to complete frequent tasks, while being minimal enough not to keep me in a constant scroll. I hate tool bars... I think that was IEs downfall from the start.

sagemore48 0 Newbie Poster

hi,there,in my way,it's hard for IE9 to take on the Chrome and the FF,at least,o looooong way to go,same for the Chrome OS.they are just 2 different is at the OS,and one 's at the search engine.
thk u

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