Microsoft Previews the Revamped Internet Explorer 9 Platform

By  |  Tuesday, March 16, 2010 at 9:00 am

What’s Microsoft planning for Internet Explorer 9? There’s a lot the company isn’t ready to talk about, including what sort of new features it’ll have and when it’ll be available. But at the MIX10 conference in Las Vegas, Microsoft is telling Web developers about the new capabilities that IE9 will provide, and it’s giving them the ability to get some hands-on experience with them for the first time. (Along with other tech journalists, I was prebriefed late last week.)

It’s doing so via a piece of software it calls the Internet Explorer 9 Platform Preview, along with a Test Drive site (which doesn’t seem to be live yet) with sample content for viewing in the Platform Preview or any browser. This isn’t a full-fledged IE9 beta: It’s a stripped-down window, and all it can do is render Web content.

Essentially, it’s a heads-up for Web developers about the new technologies and standards which IE9 will bring, so their sites can be ready once the browser hits the market.

But there’s a lot that’s new under IE9′s surface. Such as:

Hardware acceleration. IE9 uses Microsoft’s DirectX technologies–best known for their use in games–to leverage the power of today’s graphics processors to speed up the rendering of Web pages, without requiring Web developers to do anything in particular. The feature lets the browser display high-quality text and graphics faster: The Platform Preview includes a striking demo in which oversized icons for the major browsers fly around the screen in formation at high speed. In Safari and Chrome, the icons drag along at a crawl; they’re a bit snappier in Firefox and Opera, but they don’t look as good or zip as smoothly as in IE9.

Scalable vector graphics. SVG is a Web standard for displaying line-oriented images like drawings, charts, and architectural drawings at any resolution without jaggies. It’s been around for a decade without ever catching on. But until now, it’s labored at a severe disadvantage: Internet Explorer hasn’t supported it natively. With IE9, Microsoft’s browser does SVG. I don’t think it’s a given that the standard will finally have a major impact on the Web–site proprietors will have to start using it. But it’ll finally stand a chance.

HTML5: Microsoft is building IE9 to support HTML5, the nascent next-generation standard that will permit Web sites to deliver the rich interactivity associated today with Adobe’s Flash and Microsoft’s SilverLight without the use of plug-ins. Among other things, it’ll let browsers display video natively, although this feature isn’t yet working in the IE9 Preview.

The HTML5 situation remains murky: Video needs to be compressed using a particular codec, and Safari and Chrome support H.264 while Firefox and Opera use the open-source Ogg Theora standard. (That’s why YouTube’s experimental HTML5 version works only in the Apple and Google browsers–YouTube opted for H.264, not Theora.) Microsoft representatives told me that IE9 will be part of the H.264 camp.

With three of the five big browsers using H.264, it’ll be interesting to see if Mozilla (whose support of Theora is passionate) and Opera cave and go with the majority.  (As much as I like open standards, I think it oughta: Without codec standardization, HTML5 video won’t go anywhere.)

Faster JavaScript: While other browser companies have been busy souping up their JavaScript engines to run Web apps as fast as possible, Microsoft has contended that JavaScript performance isn’t that important. That position may stem in part from the fact that IE8 runs JavaScript at a crawl compared to the competition. With IE9, however, Microsoft is back in the race. IE9 sports a new JavaScript engine called Chakra, which compiles scripts on the fly so it can run them much faster. The company is sharing numbers from the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark that show IE9 neck-and-neck with Firefox, and just slightly behind Chrome, Opera, and Safari. And it says it’s still tweaking IE9 to maximize performance.

As Microsoft continues to work on IE9, it says it plans to release updated versions of the Platform Preview every eight weeks. At some point, they’ll be joined by full-fledged IE9 prerelease versions.

Just how major a makeover will IE9 get from a look-and-feel standpoint? I don’t know: The fact that Microsoft is mum could mean either that it’s a modest revamp or that big changes are afoot. For what it’s worth, Internet Explorer General Manager Dean Hachamovitch told me that there’s plenty of “heavy lifting” going on above the surface, too.

For now, the big question is how Web development types will react to the Platform Preview. iall of them have a record of extreme skepticism when it comes to IE. It’ll be fascinating to see if everything that Microsoft has planned is enough to get them excited again about the world’s dominant browser.

 
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18 Comments For This Post

  1. James Westgate Says:

    Any news on acid3 compliance? Local storage options?

  2. Glenn Fleishman Says:

    Mozilla and Google both said they have trouble with H.264 for downstream open-source versions of the browsers. Google is sucking that up, apparently; Mozilla, not.

  3. David A. Wheeler Says:

    I hope that Microsoft supports Ogg Theora; it’s perfectly possible to support BOTH.

    Your comment “I think it oughta” misses the point. Browsers like Mozilla CANNOT legally include H.264 in countries that permit software patents. Their development process requires openness, and H.264 is not an open standard. Many websites cannot (or will not) support H.264, and open source software browsers are specifically barred from directly supporting H.264.

    Without Ogg Theora support, IE will not be able to easily view Wikipedia and many other sources that ONLY permit Ogg Theora.

  4. no name sanchez Says:

    if you look carefully at the first screen shot, it shows an acid3 score of 55.

  5. Arc Riley Says:

    Chrome supports both Ogg Theora and H.264.

  6. Rob Parker Says:

    Let’s hope that Google act quickly to get the much-improved (Theora-related) codec of the company they have recently purchased out there as open source, so people can stop complaining on all accounts (patents, openness, and quality/compression), and it can therefore be put into the HTML5 draft.

  7. Hamranhansenhansen Says:

    > In Safari … the icons drag along at a crawl

    Developers can turn on graphics acceleration in Safari with a meta tag. It’s off by default because most pages don’t use it.

    > Any news on acid3 compliance?

    55/100, 45 less than Safari, Chrome, and Opera.

  8. Mark Says:

    Microsoft is also being rather dishonest with it’s results.. (no suprise there..)

    http://my.opera.com/haavard/blog/2010/03/17/microsoft-svg-table

  9. net_juheesus! Says:

    Harry,

    You missed the boat entirely on the importance of the H.264 issue. By adopting H.264, it places control of streaming media into the hands of a very few.
    -It creates/sustains a monopoly in media broadcasting.
    -It corrupts the fundamental reason why the Internet was so successful. The Open and Free (as in Freedom) aspects are meaningfully constrained by h.264 many different ways.
    -It constrains innovation in media streaming.

    Microsoft and Adobe Systems rapacious corporate culture fit nicely with the goals of the H.264 patent holders. I would not be surprised to hear Adobe and Microsoft’s PR tools telling you ‘not to worry’ about this issue because the browsers are free. (as in beer)

    Try again on the h.264 issue.

  10. Harry McCracken Says:

    @net_juheesus!: Oh, I get the argument for Theora and against H.264, and should give it a post of its own. If I got to choose, I’d probably vote for Theora, But as a consumer, I’d prefer agreement on -some- standard over fragmentation that leaves the whole idea of HTML5 video effectively in limbo. With Microsoft and Apple siding with H.264, I don’t see how it doesn’t become the new standard for Web video, at least for now.

    Imperfect reality is preferable to theoretical perfection…

    –Harry

  11. net_juheesus! Says:

    But as a consumer, I’d prefer agreement on -some- standard over fragmentation that leaves the whole idea of HTML5 video effectively in limbo.

    Harry,

    The way you think about this issue is broken.

    1. There is no ‘limbo’ state with HTML5. HTML5 doesn’t care what video stream is used. You believe h.264 is somehow fundamental to HTML5 when nothing could be further from the truth.
    2. Agree on a standard that costs *everyone* the least and maximizes distribution. That would be Theora.

    Microsoft, Apple, and Adobe can still add value when building various Theora products. They don’t like the idea of the potential for increased competition and potential for innovation outside their corporations that an open format creates.

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    It is great that Microsoft gives a preview of the IE9 platform to developers who can then keep the technologies available and restrictions in mind when they design and build future versions of their websites or web apps. This is definitely a winning move!

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