Microsoft posts Internet Explorer 9 beta (updated with first-look review)
About half an hour ago, Microsoft introduced a beta-test version of the next release of its Internet Explorer Web browser. Internet Explorer 9 Beta--technically, "Windows Internet Explorer 9 Beta"--represents the company's third attempt to catch up or pass competing browsers in security, convenience and compatibility.
Microsoft has had some serious work to to. Its inept, insecure Internet Explorer 6 sank beneath contempt years ago, IE 7 was a barely-adequate update move, and IE 8 still exhibited significant weaknesses compared to competitors such as Mozilla Firefox.
With IE 9 Beta--a free download for only the 32-bit version of Windows Vista and the 32- and 64-bit flavors of Windows 7--the company touts far-better support for Web standards, faster performance, easier maintenance and oversight of browser extensions. It also incorporates a minimalist user interface that, with its combined search and address bar and near-absence of the traditional browser toolbar, owes a lot to Google's Chrome.
Microsoft hasn't made this download too easy to find on its site, however. IE 9 goes unmentioned on
its home page and (it's there now) its main Internet Explorer page; the company has saved most of its Web marketing for a separate site at a non-Microsoft.com address titled "Beauty of the Web."
Then again, this is an unfinished release of IE, and even shipping versions can be tricky to install. So I can see why you wouldn't want to urge everybody to try out IE 9 Beta today.
As for me, I'm going to install the IE 9 Beta on an expendable review laptop; check back later today for my first assessment of the beta. Meantime, if you've already thrown caution to the wind and loaded IE 9 Beta on one of your regular computers, let me know what you think of it. Does this release put Microsoft back into contention against the likes of Firefox and Chrome?
6:52 p.m. I've now spent some time poking around with IE 9 Beta on a Dell netbook. The install itself was mercifully boring, involving less than a 10-minute wait.
On its first start, IE 9 popped up a notice advising that I could speed up my browsing by disabling some add-ons; the worst offender on its list was Microsoft's own Windows Live Toolbar, which IE 9 calculated added 2.8 seconds to its startup. A Sun Java plug-in added another 1.3 seconds, and others added only fractions of a second.
IE 9 did not, however, follow Firefox's sensible practice of offering to check browser plug-ins to see if they needed security updates.
With that useless Live Toolbar gone, it was impressive to see how little remained of the traditional browser interface. Not even Google's minimalist Chrome devotes this much of the window to the page. But by packing its unified search/address bar (called the "One Box") into the same level as the tabs representing open pages, IE 9 doesn't leave much room for you to type an address or a query. Unlike Chrome's single form, IE 9's doesn't auto-complete search entries; it invites you to enable search suggestions but first notes that it will have to send your keystrokes to your search engine for them to work.
Like Chrome, IE 9's new-tab button opens a window with buttons showing your most-visited sites. And as in Google's browser, IE 9 hides the traditional bookmark tools--here, they're confined to a small star icon at the top right of the window.
In terms of complying with Web standards--the most basic job of a Web browser--IE 9 finally catches up to the competition. Where IE 8 scored a miserable 20 of 100 on the "Acid3" test, IE 9 aced it at 95 of 100--better than the current version of Firefox. (Google's new Google Instant search did not work, but since it operates fine in IE 8 I suspect there may be some confused browser-specific coding by Google.) Microsoft can also take some justifiable pride in the performance improvements it invites users to try in a series of online demos.
But with all the work Microsoft put into IE 9, couldn't somebody at the company have taken a moment to redo the Internet Options control panel? That relic, barely changed since Windows 95, desperately needs a rewrite (hint: it's probably safe to get rid of the "Connections" tab). Seeing this cobwebby interface also makes me wonder what other antique bits of code linger under IE 9's shiny new surface.
September 15, 2010; 1:55 PM ET
Categories: The Web , Windows
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