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Summary:You can't criticise Microsoft for not having a sense of humour. The latest set of demo web applications that have arrived with the release of Internet Explorer 9 Platform Preview 4 stress your browser while letting you de-stress with a good laugh.

You can't criticise Microsoft for not having a sense of humour. The latest set of demo web applications that have arrived with the release of Internet Explorer 9 Platform Preview 4 stress your browser while letting you de-stress with a good laugh. Psychedelia comes back in one test (worth running when listening to Future Sound Of London's psychedelic Amorphous Androgynous albums), while Hamster Dance Revolution uses IE9's hardware acceleration to put a high-pitched Dance Dance Revolution game in your browser.

For once, don't hit "skip intro", at least the first time you try out the demo!

They said I would never dance again…

There's a lot of good stuff in this latest preview, the last before IE9 goes into beta (we'd guess sometime towards the end of September). Probably the biggest change is bringing the JavaScript engine right into the browser. Chakra is now blisteringly fast (faster than Safari 5!), and removing the wall between browser and JIT compiler is going to speed things up even more for the end user, getting rid of that old COM interface.

Sadly that change also means that other in-browser languages (like Microsoft's venerable VBScript) won't get the same speed up, and will eventually go the way of all flesh. Of course that also leaves a question over JavaScript versus plug-in performance, with IE9's GPU-accelerated SVG and HTML5 features becoming a significant competitor to platforms like Silverlight and Flash.

That's not say Silverlight is going away. It's Microsoft's cross-platform run time now, and it's future is most definitely outside the browser - with Windows Phone 7 the prime example of just what that's going to mean for developers. The real answer is, of course, that it all means more choice. Plug-ins will do CPU-intensive tasks like 3D and massive database connections, while HTML 5 and CSS3 handle the user experience...

There's actually another good reason for IE9 to bring its JIT inside the browser. If you spend time with the HTML5 specification, you'll see that it contains more than just describing how a browser renders content on a screen. One of its key features (and one that's still to be implemented fully by any browser) is access to web cams and microphones. Getting direct hardware access from the browser is going to require a fast, integrated JavaScript engine – much like Chakra. A single Document Object Model for browser and JavaScript is just icing on the cake!

It's good to see browser innovation coming back. The long lean years of IE6 should be behind us – if only companies would finally move applications away to newer technologies.

We had a conversation the other day with Changebase AOK, which provides tools that can automate this process. Getting sites tested for new browsers can be a struggle – the time needed to fully test a site can be prohibitive, along with the cost. Large organisations can have many hundreds of web applications that need testing and updating, something that can mean very large project teams and long timescales. Automated testing can pinpoint problem areas and suggest fixes – something that can slice a considerable amount of time off a migration programme. Running a set of sites through Changebase AOK's rules engine can quickly show where there will be problems, helping developers quickly apply fixes allowing more modern browsers to be used.

Automated testing is an important piece of any application lifecycle, especially when it comes to complex regression testing. It's something more businesses need to get to grips with – especially in these austere times, when budgets are being squeezed. Automating elements of application development really can help make those savings - especially when you tie automation into rules engines and machine learning. It's not so much AI for the developer, as intelligence amplification (with ready-made answers for all those questions you'd ask Stack Overflow!).

That's why IE9's support for Web Timings (and Google's decision to add them to Chrome) is so important. It's a technology that lets us profile web pages completely, providing another set of hooks to monitor just how applications perform – and helping make sure that your applications meet SLAs.

Simon Bisson

Topics: Windows


Born on the Channel Island of Jersey, Simon moved to the UK to attend the University of Bath where he studied electrical and electronic engineering. Since then a varied career has included being part of the team building the world's first solid state 30KW HF radio transmitter, writing electromagnetic modelling software for railguns, and t... Full Bio


Mary Branscombe is a freelance tech journalist. Mary has been a technology writer for nearly two decades, covering everything from early versions of Windows and Office to the first smartphones, the arrival of the web and most things inbetween.

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