Internet Explorer (IE) is important to Microsoft for a variety of reasons, some obvious and some less so.
IE is the most used piece of Windows, in terms of both time and frequency. It's the bridge between Windows client and Windows Live. It is the gateway to the "Windows Web experience." And it's seen inside Microsoft as a vehicle for improving the "attach rate" for Microsoft online services.
It turns out that IE -- specifically the IE 9 release -- is also key to Microsoft's tablet/slate strategy.
As I blogged last week, Microsoft is scrambling to come up with its answer to the rapidly growing market for Apple and Android slates. Until Windows 8 is on the market, the Redmondians are seeking ways to make do with Windows 7 as the slate OS of choice. How to you gussy up Windows 7, which isn't touch-centric, to make it more viable for tablets and slates? You stick IE 9 on it, according to the Microsoft game plan.
In addition to the slides from a "Microsoft Commercial Slate PCs" deck which I posted last week, I also had a chance to see a related script aimed at partners and Microsoft employees to help them demo Windows 7 slates for businesses and consumers. The script suggests how those demoing these devices should set them up to convince users that Microsoft and its partners have viable alternatives to other tablets/slates.
Microsoft suggests the demo-gods configure slates and tablets with Windows 7 Professional or Windows 7 Ultimate (or Windows 7 Home Premium or higher for consumer-focused demos); install Windows Live Essentials 2011 and IE9; enable Internet TV with Windows Media Center; pin Photo Gallery and "good" IE 9 demo sites to the taskbar (suggesting the demo folk use sites mentioned on Microsoft's www.beautyoftheweb.com); and install a full copy of Office 2010 and Lync 2010/Office Communicator.
These guidelines are interesting for several reasons. Windows 7 ships with IE 8, not IE 9, as "part" of the operating system. IE 9 is still not finalized; a nearly done Release Candidate test build is expected on February 10. And Microsoft still is declining to provide a final release-to-Web target date for IE 9, though many company watchers are expecting that to be this April.
So why the IE 9 push? From the aforementioned demo script:
"With IE9, web sites feel like applications. They can be pinned to the Taskbar, just like any other Windows application. Even Jumplists are supported, so that I can directly jump to a certain section of the site."
In other words, even though Windows 7 isn't touch-centric, IE 9 makes the OS more usable on touch devices.
Microsoft also is attempting to stem the defection tide from Internet Explorer with IE9. Net Applications has issued its latest worlwide browser usage share data, showing that IE now has 56 percent of the market. As WinRumors.com notes, that is the seventh straight month of decline for IE. The bright spot is IE 9, which already has 1.83 percent of the market, even though it is only in beta.
I'm curious to see how the RC of IE 9 works on my Windows 7 PC. As I've noted previously, I am currently using Google's Chrome because I have not been happy with the speed and performance of the IE 9 beta. Standards compliance -- and leadership -- is great. I'm not keen on the IE 9 pinned sites concept; I prefer to have many tabs open in a single browser instance. That's just the way I work. Ultimately, what matters to me as whether my frequented sites work as well in IE as in Chrome.