IE 9 preview offers tantalizing look at IE's future

Internet Explorer fans will have to wait until September for the first beta of Microsoft's revised browser, but until then, there's the final developer's preview that will give you a taste of what's coming from Redmond.

The fourth and final developer's preview of Internet Explorer 9 was released on Wednesday, with significant updates to standards compliance and rendering speed, according to Microsoft.

Microsoft says that the way that Internet Explorer's new JavaScript engine Chakra integrates with the rest of the browser and produces faster page-load times.

Microsoft says that the way that Internet Explorer's new JavaScript engine Chakra integrates with the rest of the browser produces faster page-load times.

(Credit: Microsoft)

Microsoft said in a blog post that the developer's previews had been downloaded more than 2.5 million times, indicating that despite Internet Explorer's plummeting market share over the past few years, developer interest in seeing it improve remains high.

The vast and dramatic improvements made to Internet Explorer 9 are readily apparent, even in this stripped-down preview version. Hardware accelerated HTML5 support is a major and multifaceted component of IE9, allowing for more complex and high-powered audio and video support within the browser. There's also extensive SVG animation support, although, as Microsoft points out in its blog, the animated SVG standards have yet to be finalized. You can see how these differences affect real-world rendering when you run the IE9 preview's SVG tests in other browsers, since they render imperfectly. Still, Microsoft is forging ahead and appears eager to address standards compliance in IE9, which is a good sign.

Internet Explorer 9's new JavaScript engine is a radical departure from older versions. Microsoft says that IE9's Chakra engine is remarkable for the way that the engine is integrated into the browser, as opposed, the company says, to being "bolted on." Previous versions of the developer's preview had Chakra in the "bolted on" position. Microsoft says that decreases page load times and offers benchmarks that the company conducted showing the fourth preview of the browser in the top five browsers for the WebKit SunSpider JavaScript test.

The fourth IE9 preview also does better than any previous version of Internet Explorer on the Acid3 test, which compares a number of commonly used Web browsing technologies. The latest IE9 preview scores 95 out of 100, earlier versions of the IE9 preview scored 83, and the current Internet Explorer 8 only scores 20.

Microsoft offers multiple tests that can be accessed from within the preview so users can see how they perform on their own computers. The developer's preview now lets you copy and paste, but here are a few of the more interesting ones. To access them in other browsers, click on the following links: Hamster Dance Revolution and Psychedelic Browsing for testing JavaScript; IE Beatz and Tweet Map for testing hardware acceleration; or IETrade for seeing how the HTML5 canvas tag can be used in IE9. Note that "Hamster Dance Revolution" may induce rage seizures.

Some of these changes, such as the integration of the JavaScript engine, are unique to Internet Explorer. Others, such as the hardware acceleration, bring the browser up to speed with others, or surpass them entirely. The developer previews of Internet Explorer have served a similar purpose to any good pre-beta technology, by building anticipation that the beta will be more or less usable on a daily basis. The actual feature set and user interface that Microsoft builds on top of the engine will determine a significant amount of how people react to the browser, and it's yet to be seen whether Microsoft takes a page from the playbooks of Google and Mozilla and introduce faster revisions.

Correction 1:25 p.m. PDT August 9: This story initially misstated the Acid3 benchmark scores. The latest IE9 preview scores 95 out of 100, earlier versions of the IE9 preview scored 83, and the current Internet Explorer 8 only scores 20.

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