Microsoft previews Internet Explorer 9

16th Mar 2010 | 16:18

Microsoft previews Internet Explorer 9

IE9 test online with HTML5 support and increased speed

Faster JavaScript and fast HTML5

We love HTML5, declares Internet Explorer General Manager Dean Hachamovitch. "We love it so much, we want it to actually work."

The preview of IE9 released today at Microsoft's MIX developer conference supports HTML5 – including SVG and the audio tag (video will be in the final release). But it still has some issues with speed, as we'll come onto.

It has the GPU hardware acceleration announced last year at the Professional Developer Conference to improve performance, plus a new JavaScript compiler that takes advantage of dual-core systems.

And it includes hundreds of new interfaces for web developers to let them write HTML5 and CSS 3 in a way that Hachamovitch claims is truly interoperable between browsers.

Today, he says, "The same markup does radically, painfully different things - not just between Internet Explorer and other browsers, but between other browsers and even between different versions of Webkit (the engine that underpins Safari).

"It's not like there's this happy bubble world where everything interoperates and IE is over here; look at all this stuff people have to do to make these other non-IE browsers have rounded corners.

"The promise is that IE9 will do HTML5 in a way that means the same markup can be used between browsers to give the same effect, as long as web designers use code that checks for features and behaviours rather than for specific web browsers.

However, many will point out that IE9 still isn't that quick. Despite what Microsoft might say. "IE 9 is crazy fast," says Principal Program Lead Jason Weber; "so crazy fast we're changing the way you think". IE 9 will be optimised for the ways major Web sites work (based on statistics Microsoft has gathered about the 7,000 Web APIs most commonly used).

Internet explorer 9

It's very different from IE8 under the hood; the graphics engine and the JavaScript engine have been completely rewritten. But the headline stats still don't make great reading for Microsoft, even if the IE9 preview is faster on common tests like Sunspider.

However, Weber justifies the difference between its 604 score and Opera 10.50's 287 as "less than one eye blink". Read on for details of IE9's performance in the Acid 3 test.

Faster JavaScript and fast HTML5

Not only is the JavaScript interpreter faster, but there's a new JavaScript compiler that speeds up scripts without making the browser wait for it to finish dealing with scripts. It then passes them on to the second core on dual core PCs (which Microsoft's statistics say are the majority of systems).

And the rendering engine that actually displays web pages uses the Direct2D hardware graphics acceleration that's in Windows Vista and Windows 7. "We're speeding up the real Web today," says Webber; "we believe we've sped up everything by 10 per cent, 11 per cent".

That's even more important for HTML5 says Hachamovitch; "we've had the opportunity to look through the HTML5 spec and think 'How will this go? How will it stress these systems? How is it going to stress the Internet? What resources will developers need access to? This stuff is really going to need the hardware in ways that HTML apps and Ajax apps don't."

"Heavy lifting" for the user interface

Hardware acceleration from the GPU

All the graphics effects in SVG (like alpha transparency, opacity, fills and multiple background images) will get hardware acceleration from the GPU, which Hachamovitch points out is in even low-end PCs and netbooks.

This also speeds up the audio and video support; the preview includes native MP3 and AAC support, the final version will have MPEG-4 and H.264 video and Microsoft showed a version of IE9 running two HD video streams without stuttering or pixelation, far faster and more smoothly than Google Chrome.

The platform preview shows nothing about the IE9 interface or any new or improved features that might come in the final release (whenever that is); it's just a preview of the Trident layout and scripting engine - it doesn't even have a Back button, but it will get updates every 8 weeks until the beta of IE9 comes out.


"Heavy lifting" for the user interface

Hachamovitch promises the team will do "heavy lifting in the user interface and experience space as well as in the platform but we're not talking about that yet; a lot of things are deliberately not in the preview".

This release is aimed at web developers so they can plan ahead; as Steven Sinofsky (who manages IE as president of the Windows division) puts it, "first we have to get everybody up to speed on what's going under the hood and talk about the browser and then later we'll be talking about browsing."

But what about the speed?

Talking about the browser will inevitably including talking about its score on the Acid 3 test. "As we support more of the markup that everyone really trying to use on the Web," says Hachamovitch," our Acid 3 score will go up."

But he also questions the value of Acid 3, which includes only 100 tests compared to the 8,500 of the W3C CSS test suite and doesn't always correspond to correctly rendering page elements; "You can have a score of 100 on Acid 3 for a browser and completely mess up these borders I'd want to use on my page. If I can score 100 and the same markup fails [in my browser], maybe there's a problem in the test?"

Microsoft is contributing the tests it's created internally for HTML5 to the W3C (they'll also be online with the preview download in the IE9 Testing Centre so you can try them any browser) and Hachamovitch hopes the W3C will put together what he calls "an industry-backed, standards-based test… a faithful, genuine representative test; everyone wants a test that is worthwhile".

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