Microsoft previews Internet Explorer 9 with HTML 5 support

Microsoft delivers a prototype of its next browser to developers, with support for HTML 5, SVG and JavaScript
Written by Simon Bisson, Contributor

Microsoft has released Internet Explorer 9 Platform Preview, intending to give developers a hands-on look at what they can expect in the next version of the web browser.

The preview, unveiled at the MIX web design and developer conference on Tuesday, provides expanded support for the new HTML 5 web standard. The idea was for the browser to deliver "interoperable HTML 5", said Dean Hachamovitch, Microsoft's general manager for Internet Explorer (IE). 

Interoperability is an important piece of the IE9 development philosophy, and Microsoft has analysed more than 7,000 websites to understand which JavaScript APIs are in use, the company said. As a result, the preview platform allows designers to use just one set of markup and JavaScript for both web pages and applications, according to Rob Mauceri, Microsoft's group program manager for IE.

The idea is to provide "a common platform, with a consistent programming model across modern browsers", Mauceri said.

IE9 is still in its early stages, and Microsoft has committed to bi-monthly updates during its development. When it is eventually launched — something not expected for many months yet — the release and the move to HTML 5 will be significant for the company, given the wide usage of IE.

Hachamovitch told ZDNet UK that Microsoft is committed to the next generation of web technologies. "We love HTML 5. We love it so much, we actually want it to work," he said. 

He added that he believes that the HTML 5 specification will require a significant change in the way browsers operate. "It's an opportunity to see where the web will go, how it will stress PCs and the internet, what it will do for developers," Hachamovitch said.

The IE9 preview also includes hardware-accelerated layout and rendering, a new JavaScript compiler and support for SVG, the Scalable Vector Graphics rendering standard. As a prototype, it has only a very basic user interface and is intended for developers and web designers, who can download it from Microsoft's IE test site.

Support for inline SVG is a significant change to Internet Explorer's graphics capabilities, as it will allow designers and developers to use easily edited XML code to add scriptable graphical content to pages.

Also new in the preview are Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) 3 support and improved Document Object Model (DOM) programmability. Microsoft has also upgraded the web graphics capability, providing support for alpha colour, opacity, rounded corners and multiple backgrounds.

The use of GPU acceleration to improve page-rendering performance is designed to free up processing resources to handle other functions. In addition, the new JavaScript compiler, designed to use the second core on a modern processor for background compilation, should provide a performance boost to the browser. Web applications will download and run JavaScript in a standard interpreter in order to prevent delays in page load, while the browser produces a binary version of the code. As soon as a compiled version of the code is ready, the browser will switch to the compiled version, reducing the load on the CPU and speeding up page operations.

Video performance is likely to benefit from IE9's hardware acceleration, and Microsoft pointed out the boost provided by a GPU-accelerated codec. The company demonstrated multiple high-definition videos running on a single page on an Atom nettop with minimal CPU load. 

The presence of MP3 and AAC audio support in the browser preview, and the promise of MPEG-4 and H.264 video support in the final version of IE9, raise the question of what role Flash and Silverlight, which are commonly used to handle these functions, will play in IE9. Hachamovitch did not comment on this, but pointed out that with IE9's video, audio and SVG capabilities, "you have an HTML 5 browser that does audio and video without plugins".

However, Mauceri told ZDNet UK that Flash and Silverlight are important to developers today. "There's a place for both of them," he said.

Jeffrey Hammond, senior analyst at Forrester, believes that HTML 5, while a technology worth watching, is not yet ready for to take over from its web media rivals. "I don't see HTML 5 making Silverlight or Flash obsolete in the next three years, the next five years, as the tooling isn't there," he said. "For every developer comfortable with Notepad, there are four that want tools."


Editorial standards