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Explorer 9 and a better web

Rory Cellan-Jones | 18:15 UK time, Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Looking for the best way to surf the web? In recent years, Internet Explorer has been the last place to look for innovation - the likes of Firefox and Google's Chrome browser have led the way in making web-surfing faster and more rewarding. Now Microsoft claims it's regaining the lead in the browser wars with Internet Explorer 9.

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The company has poured a lot of thinking time and investment into its latest version of the browser. While Explorer is still used by around two-thirds of all web users, it's clear that the advance of first Firefox and then Chrome has made Microsoft wake up and smell the coffee.

Executives say they have realised that PC users spend around 60% of their time on the web - so a good browser is vital to the whole Windows ecosystem. So what's different, and will it convince anyone who has deserted Explorer to return?

Speed is the first thing you notice. I was shown a demo in which the fish in an animated web aquarium swim around happily in Explorer 9, while struggling to move at all in the latest version of Google Chrome. Microsoft says this is all down to what it calls hardware acceleration - any site with graphics is sent to your computer's graphics processor, which previously has not been used by a browser. "Instead of using 10% of the power on your PC, we're now using 100%," says Leila Martine, who runs the Windows consumer business in the UK.

But the big claim is that this re-engineered browser finally brings a web experience which has been stuck in the past right up to date.

"Over fifteen years the web has progressed," says Leila Martine, "but not to the same degree as other technologies."

So Moore's Law has meant chips have got faster, computers have got more efficient, devices have got smaller and more powerful - but websites still look as if they are marooned in the 20th century. Now, or so Microsoft claims, you will get the all-singing all-dancing multimedia sites which the latest web technologies make possible.

A number of sites have already been optimised for Internet Explorer 9; among them Amazon, eBay and IMDB. But what struck me when I was shown Amazon's impressive new Book Shelf, where it was easy to pick a book and riffle through the pages, was that it looked just like an app of the sort you now get on a mobile phone.

"This looks like an application," Leila Martine agreed, and went on to show me how website owners could create site preview buttons that would sit on your computer task bar, much like the button you click to launch a phone app. "From a brand perspective they're able to create much more rich and immersive web applications."

We've heard a lot lately, notably from Chris Anderson of Wired Magazine, about the death of the web as apps give users a more pre-packaged user-friendly experience. Now it looks as though Microsoft is trying to "appify" the web, something that will certainly have brand owners and advertisers licking their lips.

For once, Microsoft's rivals may need to take some notice of what the once sleepy giant of the browser business has been up to. I'm not sure that Firefox or Chrome users will flock back to Explorer - and of course it's only Windows users who will be able to use it. But as Google itself says in a statement about the new browser "competition drives innovation for the benefit of users".

With new open standards and new browsers competing for the attention of users and websites, it seems the web is adapting, not dying.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Chrome has admitted it has to catch up to this particular IE feature in the next couple of months.
    Firefox has something to say too: wrong, wrong, wrong (We are faster and we were first.)

  • Comment number 2.

    Haven't had a chance to look if this uses open web standards but, if it doesn't, it's a return to the good old days of IE6, which mucked around with what everyone else was trying to do on the web and ended with having to hack sites to work in MS browsers. The phrase "optimised for Internet Explorer 9" may well make the developer world think this is not about open standards...

  • Comment number 3.

    But yet again Microsoft are missing the point, just as was implied about Nokia the other day. A web browser that can run as fast as the others and utilise HTML5 isn't all they need to get back in the race.

    I've got a good 20 add-ons (granted, only half of them currently work in the new beta!) to do useful things on Firefox, like copy Facebook events to Google Calendar, which is then accessible from my phone and will be even more so when my contract is finally up and can get out of another closed system (Symbian, as discussed yesterday) and onto Android. Sure, IE8 has add-ons, and I'm sure 9 does too, but they are all corporate and mostly useless. The fact that the ones I've looked at have 20 ratings tops suggests that take up hasn't been too high on them either!

    I moved from Hotmail to Gmail to do get better flexibility with my e-mail, as I can aggregate that with my other mail boxes using Thunderbird - more open source software.

    Open platforms which allow you to customise and build your own methods of working are the future, and until Microsoft see that this is the way the tide is turning, rather than developing closed systems that require, say, a shiny expensive Office suite to work correctly, they will continue to be shunned by the cool kids.

  • Comment number 4.

    bringiton8989 wrote: until Microsoft see that this is the way the tide is turning, rather than developing closed systems that require, say, a shiny expensive Office suite to work correctly, they will continue to be shunned by the cool kids.

    Alas, the "cool kids" aren't necessarily the brightest, or the most productive, or the most prevalent.

    Most users don't care about add-ons. Business users want a reliable, straight-forward and safe browser. Home users want something that is fast, easy to use and looks good.

    I would say that Microsoft has it just right.

  • Comment number 5.

    It's a Windows only browser. Nobody developing websites is going to only include Windows users. There are so many mobile Internet users now. The future of the web is in the palm, so that's smartphones and tablets.

    The desktop browser market isn't the battle to win, it is the mobile market. Given Microsoft has fell drastically behind in mobile I think few will target IE specific functionality.

    Many people use Javascript engines like jQuery now which provide a level of abstraction for the web application developer. So again, why create a site which will only cause you pain to maintain when you can write it once and it will work on all browsers?

  • Comment number 6.

    "I was shown a demo in which the fish in an animated web aquarium swim around happily in Explorer 9, while struggling to move at all in the latest version of Google Chrome. "

    I am guessing this is on a PC that has been specially optimised by Microsoft to run its browser content as fast as possible by breaking from web standards?
    Another situation where things can already be done on all other browsers perfectly well, but now web developers will be forced to tailor their sites specifically to cater for more Internet Explorer specific quirks.

  • Comment number 7.

    Um isn't IE9 supposed to not work on XP? But 60% of all PC owners still run XP?

    The bit that 'worries' me is:
    '"Instead of using 10% of the power on your PC, we're now using 100%,"

    So works wonderfully well when you're running several other programmes at the same time?

  • Comment number 8.

    very surprised that your article completely missed the fact that 6 out of 10 windows users are running XP which microsoft in their wisdom have decided cannot use IE9 - if i made the decision to roll out one of my key new products to only 40 percent of my existing customer base, not sure i would make it out of the office alive....!

  • Comment number 9.

    I really like that aquarium!! I've just got to get it.

    What spec of PC am I going to need to buy and what version of Windows will I need to upgrade to in order to run this? Oh, it's not out until when did you say? Oh, it won't run on my Netbook or that crappy iPad look alike I just bought by mistake for Christmas? Oh, it provides no better experience than the app that those "key partners" have already released for my phone?

    Gutted ...

  • Comment number 10.

    Well, ever keen to try the latest gadget I downloaded IE9 beta for Win 7 64-bit and it seems to work just fine, except the BBC website won't display. I get the title bar, then a long pause, then a black screen.

    Back to Chrome for my daily fix of BBC news (sigh)

  • Comment number 11.

    I'm trying, trying and trying to get some user-friendly information about IE9 from the website, but all is failing. The video on the site gives me some pretty videos of people outdoors, but NOTHING about the browser, and the rest of the site seems utterly unconvinced that it wants to advertise this product at all.

  • Comment number 12.

    There's a lot of uninformed comments on here already. I had no trouble finding loads of user-friendly information, and developer-friendly information within minutes - but I didn't get to see any videos of people outdoors, am I missing something there?
    There is no breaking of web standards as far as I can see - there are Windows specific features which are enabled through meta tags which won't break the page when viewed in other browsers (and on other OSes).
    The one issue I can see hampering the take-up of IE9 is the decision not to support Windows XP. I can understand Microsoft's position on this - they don't want to have to support an OS which is over 8 years old and want to persuade users to switch to Windows 7 - but with almost 55% of the user-base and with businesses reluctant to upgrade I think they may be missing a trick here.

  • Comment number 13.

    I'm confused - in what way does sending my search keystrokes individually compromise my privacy whilst sending them together when I hit 'enter' not?

    Is that cow dung I can smell?

  • Comment number 14.

    This is great news!! Would be even better for Microsfot if they would "wake up and smell the coffee" on providing a seamless simply upgrade path from Window XP to Windows 7.

    That is where the real money is. What I want is click, pay, download, install - too much to ask? From Microsoft yes it is - clueless.

    As to the browser a sideshow, almosy no matter how good it is, I would stick with Firefox as it is open, free and has more plug ins and is more flexible.

    Sorry Microsoft just get your core products working to upgrade - there is more money in it for you and customers would be happier.

  • Comment number 15.

    Well, there was a half hearted mention of privacy settings while using Bing in the video but apart from that no mention of the latest, greatest security advancement. Same old vulnerabilities but 10x faster then...

  • Comment number 16.

    I do like Internet Explorer i must admit (even though i use Opera mostly :))

    This looks great and i'd love to try it, but only on Windows 7?? Might be a few years before i get to try it :(

  • Comment number 17.

    "Instead of using 10% of the power on your PC, we're now using 100%,"

    So it's another resource hog then? Taking up 100% of storage space, 100% RAM when running and 100% CPU time. Sounds about right for Microsoft bloatware.

    Given that Bill Gates originally said the web doesn't interest him and he's not worried by it, before jumping on the bandwagon and using MS closed standards that everyone had to follow or it didn't work or at worst, allowed others from outside to control your PC via ActiveX (the biggest security risk of IE, I think it's fitting the IE should be dragging behind the competitors and learning from them.

  • Comment number 18.

    "So it's another resource hog then? Taking up 100% of storage space, 100% RAM when running and 100% CPU time. Sounds about right for Microsoft bloatware."

    The difference here is the use of the GPU not the CPU.

  • Comment number 19.

    "The difference here is the use of the GPU not the CPU."

    Can't see how a background image with 100s of 2D images of fish moving about is going to tax my GPU, even if it is only a humble series 7 nVidia.

    Now if it was 3D, then it would be a different story.

  • Comment number 20.

    MS have just upped the ante, whatever fan boys or haters have to say. I've been using Firefox for about 95% of my browsing, which is great but requires third-party add-ons to make it do some of what it should have been doing in the first place. Moreover, some of those add-ons may do one thing while in actual fact are really bad for your browser, as MS have been campaigning.

    I like what I see in IE9 and I will be trying it out, keeping an open mind.

  • Comment number 21.

    My wife has the misfortune to use a Microsoft browser on a Microsoft operating system. Every time I see it I am horrified at the amount of garbage animations and adverts that Internet Exploder has no way of blocking (or perhaps doesn't want the user to block). No surprise that it's slow. And now:

    "Now it looks as though Microsoft is trying to "appify" the web, something that will certainly have brand owners and advertisers licking their lips."

    In other words they're actually intending it to become worse. Oh dear. Not quite what the headline is promising...

  • Comment number 22.

    "Can't see how a background image with 100s of 2D images of fish moving about is going to tax my GPU, even if it is only a humble series 7 nVidia."

    I don't think Microsoft are claiming anything is going to tax your GPU. They are claiming they are going to make use of it. You're the one incorrectly deducing that IE9 is simply going to increase CPU usage to 100%. Just one example, in-browser gaming is popular and there *is* a limit on what existing browsers can do.

    I'm a linux/Chrome person myself but I'm not sure why you seem to have a problem with Microsoft claiming they are going to make more use of a computer's hardware to speed up more complex graphics stuff.

    It'll also enable touch screen PCs to mimic the Apple iPad's smooth zooming etc. There's no issue here unless you want to try and humiliate Microsoft at any cost. Yes, IE has generally been a rubbish browser but I don't have a problem with them saying they've redesigned their browser and will also utilise your computer's GPU - you seem to.

  • Comment number 23.

    So let me get this right - you attend a special preview of the IE9 beta and all Microsoft can apparently show you that stands out, or all that you really report as standing out, is that a cartoon aquarium runs smoother under IE9 than it does under Chrome or Firefox (and which versions of those were Microsoft using?).

    I hate to say it but is that really it? is that what the internet has come to? Cartoon fish?

  • Comment number 24.

    "Over fifteen years the web has progressed," says Leila Martine, "but not to the same degree as other technologies."

    Yeah, and I wonder how much faster it would have progressed over the last ten of those fifteen years if Microsoft hadn't sat on its arse letting a standards-incompliant IE stagnate for so long.

  • Comment number 25.

    Rory Cellan-Jones.

    "Speed is the first thing you notice. I was shown a demo.."

    so we'll have to reserve judgement on IE9's real speed then since demos, invariably, are designed to show the best side (only).

    ""Instead of using 10% of the power on your PC, we're now using 100%," says Leila Martine, who runs the Windows consumer business in the UK."

    and what will happen to those of us who run other applications at the same time? will everything else slow down to a crawl?

    whatever the case may be, the following will remain true:

    "Computers are like air-conditioning, as soon as you open Windows, they stop working." (signature, seen on usenet)

  • Comment number 26.

    Dear BBC, The fact that one company has not done anything for a very long time does hardly justify you running a commercial for them as NEWS. Why not interview someone that has tested speed side by side, not in some pre-canned Microsoft Demo?

    http://www.downloadsquad.com/2010/06/24/4-way-html5-speed-test-firefox-3-7-faster-than-internet-explorer-opera-chrome/

    Before I moved to the Mac, I was using IE / FireFox / Chrome on my Windows but now it is Safari / Chrome / FireFox. Do your homework, skip the spokespersons for the companies. Unless, every 6 weeks when Google releases and every 6 months FireFox releases you are going to do the same "promo".

  • Comment number 27.

    I use Chrome at the moment as I like the simple interface, which maximises the space for web viewing. However to all those who are bashing something before it comes out, check your facts. Being able to use 100% of your computer's processing power is not the same as draining it. All that it means is that if something needs a bit more power (in browser gaming springs to mind) IE9 will be able to do so. The comments about the fish are also misguided. What that webpage effectively is is a benchmark. These are used throughout the computing world (particularly in the gaming area) to test how good a PC is and give a simple score. For instance, Crysis comes with a benchmark tool that is simply whizzing around a tropical island. Pointless, but it does determine how good your computer is.

    I think part of the reason as to why IE9 doesn't work on XP is for technical as opposed to commercial reasons. Such as a lack of direct X 10/11 on XP, which is why some games don't run on XP (such as Shattered Horizon). Remember too, that XP is an old operating system and its user base is falling. Windows XP (32 and 64bit) is actually only on a third of Steam user's computers (from the Steam Hardware and Software Survey) and the percentage of users with XP is in decline. Dropping support for XP might push browser technology on rather than having an old and outdated OS drag it back.

  • Comment number 28.

    First impressions of IE9 are good. It does feel quicker and as the 'default' browser that will be rolled out to non-tech people its seems OK.

    I'd prefer the faves button to be on the left, but other than that it seems to work

  • Comment number 29.

    A couple of quick comments:

    What's IE9's Acid3 score? :) IE7 manages a piddling 12%, IE8 20% (according to the screenshot on Wikipedia), FF 3.6.10 manages 94% and most WebKit browsers 100%...

    Oh, and searching the web for "IE fishtank demo" will take you to the demo page. On my work PC, IE7 won't run it, but Firefox 3.6.10, 1225x810 window size, with 20 fish, will average 20-30fps.

    If the mods will allow the link to the demo, so you can test it out yourself with your own browser/platform combination:
    http://ie.microsoft.com/testdrive/performance/fishIE%20tank/default.html

  • Comment number 30.

    The latest beta release of IE9 manages 95 on ACID3.
    Not that it's that great a test because both Desktop and Mobile Safari boast a 100 ACID3 score but there are some pages which although they render fine in Desktop Safari, don't render well in Mobile Safari.

  • Comment number 31.

    Running the fish test (thanks mittfh) I get between 25 and 30fps on Chrome with 10 fish. IE8 won't even open the page.

    This is where I think people who see the future of computing as a solely browser based experience are mistaken. My computer will run complex 3D games at far higher frame rates without any difficulty.

    However one thing I have noticed is that Chrome will only use 25% of my computing power when running the fish test. Effectively it lacks multi-threaded programming (and is only using 1 of the 4 cores on my processor). I am sure that if a browser had access to all 4 cores as well as my GPU (which has far more effect on performance when running this sort of demo) then it would perform better. Therefore if IE9 can do this then it is far more capable as a browser.

  • Comment number 32.

    Rory, when can we expect a follow up to this blog, say, 'Firefox 4 and a better web', in order to give a more balanced picture of web development?
    Microsoft may or may not have smelt the coffee, but Firefox 4 beta was available before IE9 beta.
    It's sad (not) to see MS in terminal decline, they can't event retire Windows XP and older IE properly, which means Windows7/IE8+ isn't making enough money. So they have been reduced to patent threats to try and make a living. Someone please put this dinosaur out of it's misery and put it down, humanely of course.

 

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