Microsoft launches IE9 at SXSW

The company has launched the first full release of its Internet Explorer 9 web browser with new security and privacy features, hardware acceleration and compatibility with some HTML 5 features
Written by Ben Woods, Contributor

Microsoft has released the latest iteration of its Internet Explorer web browser, with tracking protection to stop user behaviour information from being reported to third-party websites.

Internet Explorer 9 (IE9), which was unveiled at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Festival on Monday, also has redesigned and revamped elements. These include an enhanced tabs feature — two tabs in the same browser window side-by-side — as well as general speed and performance increases as a result of the refreshed Chakra JavaScript engine. Microsoft says this is 35 times faster than its predecessor.

IE9 launch at SXSW

Microsoft launched IE9 at SXSW, showing off its HTML 5 capabilities in a Foursquare web app. Photo credit: Caroline McCarthy/CNET News

"Today, the web can unlock the power and performance of the best PC hardware through Windows and Internet Explorer 9. Websites also can act more like applications within Windows 7, with features such as Pinned Sites," Dean Hachamovitch, corporate vice president of Windows Internet Explorer at Microsoft, said in a statement on Monday.

Combined with the Pinned Sites option, a feature known as Jump List stores common tasks — such as checking an inbox, accepting a friend request and reading news — for websites that have been specifically designed to be compatible. Microsoft said that at launch it has 250 "top sites", such as Amazon and Facebook, already implementing the feature, and more than a thousand more working on other sites.

Security options

With this release Microsoft has focused on making new security and privacy options top of the priority list by introducing Tracking Protection and ActiveX Filtering options.

Tracking Protection provides the option to block tracking cookies and advertisements by using custom-made or third-party blocklists, such as PrivacyChoice, TRUSTe or Adblock. ActiveX Filtering provides the user with extra security by allowing them to decide whether or not to let specific functions or scripts run on a website.

Microsoft has also included reputation management in its download manager, known as SmartScreen, which removes unnecessary warnings for well-known files and shows more severe warnings when the download has a higher risk of being malicious.

IE9 has added compatibility for some base HTML 5 specifications, such as semantic tags, the ability to use the WebM video codec where available, and HTML 5 geolocation features. It also introduces full hardware acceleration, which improves browser performance by using the system's GPU instead of CPU for processing.

Business adoption

However, as a result of the hardware acceleration, IE9 will only be available to download for users of Windows 7, Server or Vista PCs — an outcome that will hurt business adoption of the browser, according to Ovum analyst Richard Edwards.

"IE9 will excite web developers and 'prosumers' as they explore the new HTML 5 capabilities of the web's most commonly used browser — Internet Explorer 6, 7 and 8 account for around 80% of the business browser market — but we consider it to be a non-event for the vast majority of corporate IT managers and their users," Edwards said in a statement on Tuesday.

"This is largely because IE9 does not run on Windows XP — the operating system running on 67 percent of corporate desktops," he added.

IE9 will excite web developers and 'prosumers'... but we consider it to be a non-event for the vast majority of corporate IT managers.
– Richard Edwards, Ovum

The release of IE9 also brings its feature list more in line with browsers from direct competitors, such as Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox. Users can search directly by typing into the address bar field, which provides suggestions as you type, instead of using the dedicated search box. IE9 also has a redesigned download manager page, and a revamped 'new tab' page which introduces colour coding and increased customisation options.

Microsoft, once the clear leader defined by browser market share, is facing the sustained threat of a loss of market share from Firefox, Chrome, Apple's Safari and others.

Web analytics firm Net Applications currently reports that Microsoft has around 57 percent of the browser market — down from just under 70 percent in March 2009 — with Mozilla Firefox in second place at just below 22 percent and Chrome in third spot with nearly 11 percent.

However, Edwards says that with rivals all putting out new versions of their browsers, Microsoft may be better served by concentrating on its mobile browser.

"We believe the next battle ground for the 'browser wars' will be fought not on the desktop, but on the smartphone and tablet, and this is where Microsoft's existing browser offering still has a lot of catching up to do," Edwards said.

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