IE9 adds key HTML5 features in new preview release

IE9 adds key HTML5 features in new preview release

Summary: Microsoft has just passed an important milestone on the road to shipping Internet Explorer 9, releasing a third Platform Preview for download by the public today. They've finally delivered the missing pieces of the HTML5 standard. Is this the last step before a public beta?

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Microsoft has just passed an important milestone on the road to shipping Internet Explorer 9, releasing a third Platform Preview for download by the public today.

This preview adds the most eagerly awaited HTML5 features to the IE9 engine, including support for the Canvas element and both audio and video tags. Based on test results I've seen, there are also significant performance improvements and a big jump in IE9's score on the controversial Acid3 test page (although it still falls short of a perfect score). Like its two predecessors, this release contains only the most rudimentary user interface, allowing Microsoft to keep the dialog with developers focused on performance, standards compliance, and support for new HTML5 features.

What's most remarkable about today's announcement is that Microsoft is running well ahead of its initial, self-imposed schedule. The public promise by IE boss Dean Hachamovitch back in March was to deliver a new platform release every eight weeks. The first public release was on March 16, followed by a second release 50 days later, on May 5. Today's release is exactly seven weeks after that. My colleague Mary Jo Foley says her sources are telling her this is the last platform release, and that the next milestone is a public beta in August. Based on the cadence Microsoft has established so far, that timetable makes sense: the next release should be ready on or perhaps a little before August 18, which is eight weeks from today.

Two weeks ago, in a series of meetings in Redmond, I saw this release in action and asked whether it was feature complete. "Almost," I was told. Certainly the last major pieces of HTML5 support are now in place with the unveiling of support for the Canvas element and audio and video tags. That means that IE9 can perform hardware-assisted playback of H.264-encoded video on any Windows PC. In theory, at least, it should be able to pass every one of the HTML5 tests based on those features, which it previously failed. If there are any other serious omissions, we should hear about them within days, given the scrutiny this release will get from the developer community. (According to Microsoft, the two previous platform previews have been downloaded more than 2 million times. I expect this release to blow well past those numbers.)

With today's Platform Preview 3 release, Microsoft also updated its IE9 Test Drive website, adding another 15 demos that show off some of the new HTML5 features and also demonstrating performance gains achieved with the help of a rewritten JavaScript engine and GPU-accelerated graphics. A bookstore demonstration from Amazon's website, built using the HTML5 Canvas feature, is particularly impressive with its ability to open a book and flip through its pages, and another third-party demo from IMDb.com does a nice job of highlighting video playback. You'll find a few frivolous demos as well (swimming fish and even a Potato Gun game) that show off some serious features.

The real proof, of course, will come when independent testers compare the new IE9 build to Safari 5 and Google Chrome using not only Microsoft's test pages, but Apple's test pages and those from third-party sites as well. Microsoft is sticking firmly with the goals it outlined back in November when it first demoed IE9 at the Professional Developers Conference (PDC) in Los Angeles. The "same markup" mantra is still at the center of Microsoft's design, with the goal of delivering a final release that has the best, most interoperable support for HTML5. The core design principle is that HTML5 markup will render the same in IE9 as it does in any other modern, standards-compliant browser, with no compromises in performance, and developers won't have to treat it as a separate platform or version.

Update 23-Jun 3PM PDT: I just downloaded and installed the IE9 PP3 code and loaded the Amazon Shelf test page in IE9 and in the current shipping release of Google Chrome, on a system with an i7-920 CPU and an Nvidia GeForce 9600GS. Performance is blazing fast on the IE9 platform, with crisp transition effects and very snappy loads. On Chrome, which does not support GPU acceleration, performance is almost unbearably slow, and font rendering is inferior as well. Be sure to check the source code, which notes that the page is primarily driven by JavaScript and Canvas. There's an equally dramatic performance difference on the IMDb Video Panorama page.

Next page: What can you expect? -->

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In third-party HTML5 test suites, the two previous platform previews of IE9 achieved low scores because they didn't fully implement HTML5 markup. That left them with big fat zeroes on any part of the test that involved audio or video, for example. With the addition of support for the Canvas element and the HTML5 audio and video tags, those results should be much closer to those of competing browsers.

The addition of those previously missing features also improved IE9's performance on the Acid3 test. On the 0-100 scale for this test, IE8 scores a dismal 20. With each successive platform preview release, IE9 has improved, starting at 55 in March, increasing to 68 in May, and jumping all the way to 83 with today's release.

So why not 100? I asked Rob Mauceri, Principal Group Program Manager on the IE team, who argued that the Acid3 test "isn't a true conformance test of standards." Instead. he said, "It tests for a set of capabilities across fractions of 12 different standards. Our objective is not the Acid3 test. Our objective is to build for the things that developers care about most. Our approach in implementing the standards is to do it in a responsible engineering approach and contribute it back to the W3C." To that end, Microsoft has contributed a total of more than 1600 proposed HTML5 test pages to the W3C. I asked Rob if the final release of IE9 will achieve a perfect score on the Acid3 test. "We're not done here, either," he told me.

Microsoft's developers are especially pleased with the work they've done on IE9's Chakra JavaScript engine. According to a test run of the WebKit SunSpider benchmark from June 21, IE9 PP3 significantly improved its score over previous versions and is in the same ballpark as the current released versions of Safari and Chrome.

But as one senior IE developer told me, "Optimizing for one particular benchmark can get you into a hole." Instead, Microsoft's approach tests performance of nightly builds against 30 real-world sites that represent a broad range of capabilities. On that measure, they seem reasonably happy with the performance of this release.

You can find updated cross-browser results from the Internet Explorer Testing Center on its website. On my latest visit I had a chance to meet with IE Test Manager Jason Upton and to tour the lab itself, a large, well-refrigerated data center stocked with 948  workstations, 119 servers, and 22 clustered high-end servers with 300 copies of Windows and IE per cluster. There was an impressive breadth of old and new hardware, including some mysterious FrankenPCs running bleeding-edge hardware. (And it's significantly improved over the previous generation in terms of energy efficiency as well; through its Green Lab initiative, Microsoft estimates it saved 1.8 million KWH.)

The biggest missing piece in today's release is the user interface, which consists of a thin frame and an input box where you can type or paste a URL. That's a deliberate (and wise, in my opinion) strategy. Everyone on the IE team is self-hosting IE9, I 'm told, but the UI is a jealously guarded secret. I expect to see some significant changes over the well-worn IE8 UI—but not for at least eight weeks.

Meanwhile, the HTML5 standard itself is still in flux. This release adds support for some very new HTML5 features, like Web Open Font Format (WOFF). It also includes support for Web Timing, which is a framework that will make it possible for page designers to accurately measure performance as users experience it.

In all my meetings with the IE team since last November, I've been especially impressed with the careful attention they've paid to engineering, not just shoveling in new features or pushing out new builds. There's a lot of confidence from this team as well. They seem determined to shake up the web establishment by setting the bar for the most standards-compliant web browser around, for a very demanding audience.

On the IE9 roadmap, the next stop after these platform previews is a beta release, followed by a Release Candidate and then a shipping product. If that beta is indeed ready in August, look for an RC in November and a shipping product early next year.

Topics: Browser, Hardware, Microsoft, Software Development

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36 comments
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  • Cue NonZealot post claiming HTML5 is not a standard

    Lest he be accused of double standards;-)
    Richard Flude
    • For some time HTML5 risked being a double standard

      @Richard Flude <br><br>and as both the W3C and the WHATWG are still working on their own HTML5 drafts that risk still exists, even if negligible because the W3C is now regarded as the 'official' HTML5 standard.<br><br>Alas, I bet our zealot friend doesn't know that so why bother. To be safe let us just hide such dangerous knowledge from him, half of it would be enough to burn one of his two neurons.
      OS Reload
      • RE: IE9 adds key HTML5 features in new preview release

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        xiaodou
    • Easy enough for you to prove me wrong

      @Richard Flude <br>Navigate to <a href="http://www.apple.com/html5/" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://www.apple.com/html5/</a> with anything other than Safari, click on any of the HTML5 Showcase items, and the result you get will either prove you right or it will prove me right. The message <b>I</b> get is:<br><i>Youll need to download Safari to view this demo.<br>This demo was designed with the latest web standards supported by Safari. If youd like to experience this demo, simply download Safari. Its free for Mac and PC, and it only takes a few minutes.</i><br><br>Some <b>standard</b>!!!<br><br>I stand by what I said, HTML5 is <b>not</b> a standard, it is whatever the browser makers want it to be. And my opinion hasn't changed in the least because, unlike you, I don't have a sick emotional attachment to the multi-national, multi-billion $$$/year mega-corporation that happens to sell me some of the products that I use. I don't have a double standard. You do though.

      PS I went to MS's HTML5 demo website with Chrome and from what I saw, things actually did work well. So it would appear that if HTML5 is a standard, MS is doing a better job of writing cross browser HTML5 standard websites than Apple is. Suck on that. :)
      NonZealot
      • Confusing implementation and standards

        Apple choosing to restrict it's Safari demos to its own browser says nothing about the standards.

        "I don't have a double standard. You do though."

        What is it? It isn't clear from your rant.

        "So it would appear that if HTML5 is a standard..."

        Hmm;-)
        Richard Flude
      • THANK YOU Richard!!! I couldn't have said it better myself!!!

        [i]Apple choosing to restrict it's [b]Safari[/b] demos to its own browser says nothing about the standards.[/i]

        The page I linked to was meant to be an HTML5 demo page. The word HTML5 is plastered all over the page. And yet you are right, it is a demo of Safari's proprietary implementation of a bunch of tags that are [b]not[/b] standard. Apple wants to make sure that the web only works on Safari. However, this somehow makes Apple "good" in your eyes. That is your double standard.

        [i]"So it would appear that if HTML5 is a standard..."

        Hmm;-)[/i]

        Maybe your proprietary Safari browser didn't render the word "if". Hmmm ;)
        NonZealot
      • RE: IE9 adds key HTML5 features in new preview release

        @Richard Flude.

        Richard, don't be a douche ok? That Apple HTML5 page is BS and you know it.
        BFD
    • RE: IE9 adds key HTML5 features in new preview release

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  • Chrome, Safari and cloud computing pushing Microsoft ahead

    After 6 years of complacency with IE6 and a few more after that, Microsoft finally realized that time has come to play defense.

    Probably too late for them.
    OS Reload
    • RE: IE9 adds key HTML5 features in new preview release

      @OS Reload
      You are an annoying troll, you know that ?
      timiteh
      • @timiteh : The truth tends to annoy some people

        Especially those who have something to lose from its spreading.<br><br>That's what I know.
        OS Reload
      • RE: IE9 adds key HTML5 features in new preview release

        @timiteh Actually, you're the troll in this situation.
        LegendarySandwich
    • Um...

      You do realize this will be the THIRD major release of Internet Explorer after IE6? That's an awful lot of history to ignore.
      Ed Bott
      • RE: IE9 adds key HTML5 features in new preview release

        @Ed Bott i think he mean "since IE6, there are not improving"~
        Lghost
      • RE: IE9 adds key HTML5 features in new preview release

        @Ed Bott Yes, but the last two were not much better than version 6 (for their time). <br><br>Even if Internet Explorer 9 turns out to be better than it's competitors when it finally gets released (which I HIGHLY doubt), I still won't use it often, because it's not Linux compatible.
        LegendarySandwich
      • That's BS

        @Legendary

        IE 8 is way better than 6, as was 7. They've been improving their product, and only your blind hate of everything MS "I won't use it cause it's not Linux compatible".

        If you aren't going to use it, and you're a linux fanatic, why even show up to a blog about IE9?
        Michael Alan Goff
      • No BS

        @goff256
        Unless IE9 has a built-in Flashblock, Adblock and NoScript and isn't bundled with the OS and drops the ActiveX spyware requirement, then it's a non-starter for me. It's that simple.<br><br>But go ahead and keep crying victim all you want to.
        ubiquitous one
      • RE: IE9 adds key HTML5 features in new preview release

        @goff256
        Lol. Blind hate of everything Microsoft? Yeah, that's why I use and like Windows 7. And yes, they have been improving Internet Explorer, but not really by much (relative to the time of release). I'm not a Linux fanatic, I just like Linux; and I said I wouldn't use Internet Explorer 9 OFTEN if it was better than the competition, because I use Windows alongside Linux and Internet Explorer isn't compatible with Linux. Duh.
        LegendarySandwich
    • Dhu....

      @OS Reload
      "After 6 years of complacency with IE6 and a few more after that, Microsoft finally realized that time has come to play defense."

      What are you even jabbering about?

      Its obvious that on the face of it, your statement has no meaning and I'm sure you don't get that either.

      Whats IE6 have to do with anything thats happening today? Did you completely miss the release of IE7 and IE8?

      Microsoft finally realized that time has come to play defense? What in the lord does that even mean...really, what possible meaningful interpretation is any human expected to understand form that pile of mush?

      I just don't understand why some people around here even bother posting when they cant be bothered enough to write something that has some kind of meaning to it, that is; some kind of meaning that makes sense when you read it.
      Cayble
      • RE: IE9 adds key HTML5 features in new preview release

        @Cayble

        "Microsoft finally realized that time has come to play defense? What in the lord does that even mean...really, what possible meaningful interpretation is any human expected to understand form that pile of mush?"

        It means that he thinks Microsoft has finally decided to seriously compete with the competition? You couldn't figure that out? And, he says "and a few more after that", which I think means IE7 and IE8.
        LegendarySandwich