Microsoft's IE9 exploits hardware for speed

Microsoft's new beta version of Internet Explorer 9 improves its graphics rendering performance by making more efficient use of the PC's hardware.

Microsoft's new beta version of Internet Explorer 9 improves its graphics rendering performance by making more efficient use of the PC's hardware.

Dean Hachamovitch, corporate vice president of Internet Explorer at Microsoft, explained that IE9 can more efficiently distribute processor-intensive tasks around the PC, which allows it to render graphics at a fraction of the time it previously took.

"Our approach here is to use the whole PC. The platform previews that we have released show the benefits of when the browser taps into the native power of the PC," he told the attendees.

Branden Hall, chief software architect from Automata Studios, explained how the new browser can accelerate the browsing experience.

"One of the fastest parts of a computer is the GPU (graphics processing unit), the part that powers all the bits going to the screen. IE9 allows a lot of the maths and a lot of the stuff that has to be done by the browser to be done in the fastest part in the computer.

"So when we are taking these images and turning them and transforming them, it stays in the fastest part of the computer the whole time, it doesn't have to get marshalled back and forth between a lot of different areas," said Hall.

Although competing browser manufacturers are developing similar features, Microsoft has a distinct advantage because not only does it have very close ties to PC manufacturers, it also makes the operating system.

"[Microsoft] has got the knowledge of the full stack going down to the hardware so they can probably take advantage of it better than anybody," said Hall.

Danny Riddell, CEO and founder of Archetype, agreed.

"Owning the OS and working a lot with the hardware manufacturers, they just get a little bit lower-level integration and speed and performance out of it — that is what we have seen," he said.

Australian blogger Long Zheng said Firefox is working on a virtually identical technology but claims it is "not working quite as well".

"Obviously, you can see that this is the direction that everyone wants to go," said Zheng.

Getting with the standards

Microsoft has traditionally not been a great follower of standards, but over the past few years, this approach has been reversing, especially when it comes to browser technologies.

"They weren't always the first ones to follow the standards, I think over time they got that and they decided it was time to do just that," said Riddell.

Joshua Davis, a New York-based designer, (with Automata's Hall) demonstrated the graphic generation site The Endless Mural, which was created specially for the launch event.

"That was actually one of the requirements that Microsoft positioned to us: that this could not be an IE9-specific project. It had to work on all browsers and all platforms.

"I can understand why they wanted to do that because then they can do these benchmarks and say, 'here is the project that you can see in all browsers and here is why it works best in this one'," Davis told ZDNet Australia.

One of Microsoft's biggest problems now is persuading its customers to embrace the new browser. A significant proportion of corporate entities and government departments have so far resisted upgrading from IE6, which is around 10 years old.

Automata's Hall said that the lack of security provided by IE6 should be reason enough to upgrade to a new browser — whether it be IE9 or any of its competitors.

"The new security things in there that prevent one person from bringing down a whole corporation accidentally are gone, you don't have to worry about those issues any more with the newer browsers," he said.

Davis said that companies should adopt technologies that make them more efficient.

"If your business is about efficiency, you shouldn't be afraid of technology and change, you should embrace it," he added.

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