TechWeb

Review: IE 9 Is Microsoft's Best Browser Yet

Mar 26, 2011 (02:03 AM EDT)

Read the Original Article at http://www.informationweek.com/news/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=229301308


Internet Explorer 9 Fast, Powerful, Intuitive
Internet Explorer 9 Fast, Powerful, Intuitive
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
With the release of Internet Explorer 9, Microsoft has created a powerful, fast, and intuitive interface for browsing the Web. IE 9 is easily the best browser that Microsoft has produced to date and, right now, it compares favorably with competing browsers such as Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox.

Of course the key part of that statement is "right now." In the next few weeks we'll see the release of Firefox 4 and Chrome 11. If Microsoft sticks by their two year release schedule for browsers, by the time we see IE 10, Chrome will be at version 30 and the Microsoft browser will be far behind competitors and most likely ill suited for surfing the Web of 2013.

However, right now IE 9 is an excellent upgrade, with welcome improvements that make it a solid choice for surfing today's Web.

One of the biggest changes that users will notice is the completely revamped interface, which bears more than a passing resemblance to Chrome. Compared to the often-cluttered interfaces of previous versions of IE, version 9 has a clean and intuitive look and has combined most menu items into a single Tool menu icon.

One small issue I had with the new interface was how it placed tabbed windows and the address bar in the same row. If I opened multiple tabs in the browser, this row quickly became somewhat tight.

IE 9 has changed the window that displays when opening a new tab. Now when opening a new tab, IE 9 displays a list of icons of Web sites that the user visits the most. This worked well, but when compared to browsers such as Chrome and Apple Safari, the ability to customize the new tab page in IE was very limited.

Another feature found in other browsers that has now made its way to IE is the ability to enter search terms and run searches directly from the address bar. This worked well in tests and in general is a very easy and time saving way to run searches in a browser.

A feature available only to Windows 7 users of IE 9 is Pinned Sites. Using this feature, I could add any site to the Windows 7 taskbar simply by clicking on its icon in the browser address bar and dragging it down to the taskbar. With this feature I could quickly launch a pinned site or Web application from the taskbar and also add the Web application to my Startup folder so it would launch when Windows launched. And, when a pinned site is launched, the browser window works almost like a separate application, down to its own unique icons and look based on the Web site's properties.

The notifications feature in IE 9 is also much improved and is one area where I think IE works better than competing browsers. In IE 9, a pop-up notification box displays at the bottom of the browser whenever information on downloads or site loads needs to be displayed. I found this to be informative and an unobtrusive way to handle notifications and superior to the standard browser status bar.

One big improvement in the shipping version of IE 9 is clearly performance. While previous versions of IE performed poorly in almost all benchmark tests, IE 9 is now very competitive and even a leader in some tests. IE 9, at least in the 32-bit version, uses an updated JavaScript engine that provided a huge boost. On tests using the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark, IE 9 32-bit had a slight edge over competing browsers such as Chrome and Opera. Tests run using Futuremark's Peacekeeper benchmark, which is more of an overall browser performance test, showed great improvement, though it was still well behind performance leaders Chrome and Opera.




Internet Explorer 9 Fast, Powerful, Intuitive
Internet Explorer 9 Fast, Powerful, Intuitive
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
Another potential performance boost for IE 9 comes from its ability to use the PC's graphics processor to handle video, images, and other graphics-intensive applications within the browser.

IE 9 also includes some new features designed to improve security and privacy control. One of the more interesting is the new Tracking Protection, which uses third-party lists to prevent certain sites from tracking Web activity through cookies. Microsoft doesn't maintain any of these lists, but users can choose one or select sites from their browsing history to create their own list.

Also useful is the inclusion of ActiveX filtering, which blocks any ActiveX applications on the Web from running. That's a good thing as ActiveX is often used to spread malware. I appreciated that it was possible to allow ActiveX to run on certain sites, which is useful for internal or other trusted sites where ActiveX support might be required.

Settings configuration in IE 9 has improved somewhat, though some areas, such as the classic Windows Internet Options, haven't changed much at all. IE 9 does now finally feature a good download manager that made it possible view content downloaded through the browser and also pause in progress downloads and restart failed downloads.

IE 9 also does a good job managing add-ons and plug-ins. One very nice feature makes it possible easily enable or disable add-ons in order to improve browser performance.

When it comes to standards support, IE 9 is certainly improved over previous versions and, like most other browsers, IE is making strides towards supporting the emerging HTML 5 standard. Using the Web Standards Project's Acid3 test, IE 9 scored a 95 out of 100, better than previous IE versions but still behind competing browsers.

As is often the case with Microsoft products, IE 9 has one major weakness when compared to competitors. While browsers such as Chrome and Firefox run on Macs, Linux, and Windows 7 through XP, IE 9 will only run on Vista or Windows 7.

You can find the new Internet Explorer 9 here.