On September 15, Microsoft made the first public beta of Internet Explorer (IE) 9 available for download.
Microsoft has fielded four developer test builds of IE 9 since March. From my sources, I hear there are likely a couple more betas of IE 9 in the pipeline before the final version launches, possibly in April 2011 around the time of the Microsoft Mix 11 conference. (Microsoft is not talking about when or if there will be other betas or when the final will launch.)
Microsoft's goals with IE 9 include making its browser more standards-compliant, less cluttered and faster. A screen shot and information about the browser, which leaked last month from Microsoft Russia, gave a good indication of what to expect, including the combined address/search bar, tear-off tabs and a much simplified UI.
In promotional materials posted to its Web site earlier today, Microsoft execs noted that "Web browsing is the No. 1 thing people do on their Windows-based PC, and as such, they increasingly expect the same experience they associate with their PC applications from their favorite Web-based e-mail service, photo site or social network site. This kind of immersive experience does not occur on the Web today, and using a browser is often associated with limited performance and interactivity. Microsoft developed Windows Internet Explorer 9 to help change this."
I recall shortly after IE 8 launched that a number of users, including yours truly, were complaining about how slowly various sites performed in IE 8's tabs, especially when IE 8 was running on Windows XP. Microsoft officials denied there was a problem, and even went so far as to say that IE 8 was just as fast as Google's then-newly-launched Chrome browser (which it wasn't, as anyone running the Chrome beta could see for her/himself).
Since IE 9 won't work on XP, Microsoft may head off some of its speed issues at the past. Microsoft also has gotten a number of Web site developers and content providers on board early, convincing them to create IE-9-optimized versions of their sites to help improve performance and the overall user experience.
My ZDNet colleague Ed Bott has a review of IE 9 Beta 1 which includes his experiences putting the first public test build through its paces over the past week.
I'd be interested in hearing your impressions if you test drive the IE9 beta. I'll be sharing mine, as well, once I get a chance to check it out.