Beauty of the web

One of the biggest news items in the last few weeks is Microsoft’s launch of a beta-test version of its Internet Explorer 9 web browser and a website showing of its many talents.

2010-09-25_215814                            ** Will only work with Windows Vista & 7

Once the undisputed browser champion, Internet Explorer has slumped in recent years to being used by a comparatively paltry 60.4% of Internet users. In the same period, Firefox gained a 22.93% market share and Google’s new chrome browser rapidly garnered 7.75% of users for itself.

Clearly something had to be done, from Microsoft’s point of view, and Internet Explorer 9 is the result a lot of work and cogitation. All sorts of tweaks and improvements have been made and the hope is that the new product will be good enough to claw back some market share.

None of the features of IE 9 are particularly revolutionary but they have been drawn together in a mix which looks pretty good to me, and could fulfil Microsoft’s stated aim of making the web a more beautiful place for users.

The most noteworthy thing about IE 9 is its streamlined and minimal interface, which means that there is more space on the screen for the web page you’re looking at. Space saving extends to the One Box navigation system, where you use the same box to type in a web address or search term.

Another major new feature is hardware acceleration which means that the browser can not only use the computer’s CPU to render video, graphics and text, but it can also call on the graphics processor to help speed things up.

The browser allows you to pin websites to the Windows taskbar so that you can visit your favourite sites by clicking on a taskbar button. Another time-saving feature is that shortcuts to your most popular websites are displayed on the start page whenever you open a new browser tab, and you can access them with a click.

Internet Explorer has the improved Chakra JavaScript engine to speed up the execution of the JavaScript code which is found in so many websites these days, and it also embraces the HTML 5 standard for structuring and presenting web content.

Microsoft has often gone its own way in implementing web standards which has led to nightmares for web developers who have had to go to extraordinary lengths to make websites which look good in both Internet Explorer and other competing browsers.

The company’s decision to go with HTML 5 is pretty laudable but there is a slight niggly-naggly problem, which is that the HTML 5 standard has not been finally agreed and, according to one source, it could be another 12 years, or more, before that happens.

The danger is that competing browsers and website developers may decide on their own different implementations of the standard. I very much hope this is not the case and that everyone gets along and keeps moving in the same direction.

We’ll have to wait and see how that develops but, in the meantime, it has to be said that Internet Explorer 9 is pretty snazzy, despite the fact that it is still in its beta-test phase.

It has a similar sleek look to Google’s Chrome browser and, in the week or two that I’ve been using it, it has seemed fast and stable enough to use on a day-to-day basis. I can’t really comment on speed improvements to do with rendering video but this is more to do with my dog of an Internet connection, rather than the browser itself.

There are one or two tweaks that I am hoping for in the final release version including a dedicated button for adding a website to the favourites list. The other point is that IE 9 has a coloured strip along the top of the window which is used to display its name and the name of the web page being viewed; I’d far rather the space be used to display tabs for each open web page, much as Google Chrome does.

There is now very little to choose between Chrome and Internet Explorer and I’m currently undecided which I prefer. I reckon it’ll come down to individual personal taste.

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