21/09/10 - Nine Lives
Microsoft unveils IE9
Internet Explorer has a bad rep. Itís seen as something of a dinosaur, sluggish and unstylish, and a barrier to the progress of front-end web development. In short, itís always struggled to be the cool kid in the browser wars - but with the recent Beta release of the super-sleek and super-fast IE9, opinions might be about to change.
In recent years, the little blue Ďeí has seen its popularity wane in the face of fierce competition from Firefox and more recently Googleís Chrome browser, which in a relatively short time has secured an impressive 7.5% share of the market. In contrast, Microsoftís share has dropped to a mere 60% - with its credibility for producing standards-compliant and secure browsers at its lowest ebb. This is an important time for Microsoft: the launch of IE9 is a chance to win back users and give the browserís image a much-needed boost within the industry.
And for web development companies and their clients, IE catching up with the rest of the web is welcome news. For years, developers have spent countless frustrating hours trying to work around the rendering quirks of IE6, and even after three incarnations this nine-year old browser is still clinging on by its fingernails. However, Microsoft appears eager to finally release the shackles of IE6; itís urging users to upgrade away from the ancient browser, declaring it as obsolete. Itís also restricted IE9ís supported Operating Systems to just Vista and Windows 7, showing similar determination to move away from the outdated XP Operating System. All the signs point to Microsoft finally catching up with the market and embracing new web technologies.
So, looking beyond the glitzy Gorillaz-endorsed launch of IE9 last Thursday, what benefits can developers and users expect from this new browser?
User Interface - IE9ís interface is far cleaner and more simplified than previous versions of IE. Borrowing from Google Chrome, the page tabs are moved up out of the main viewing pane allowing for a larger page area. The default navigation has been pared down to the bare essentials, with only buttons for Home, Favourites and Tools remaining.
Website pinning - One of IE9ís most useful new features utilises the pinning functionality of Windows 7 and treats webpages like Windows applications. By dragging the webpage tab onto your taskbar you can revisit your website within one click. Once pinned, the browser takes on the colour scheme of the website, changing the back and forward buttons and switching the default home button for the websiteís favicon.
Notifications - Warnings and dialogue boxes have been toned down. Instead notifications appear in a subtle yellow box at the bottom of the viewing pane. Though potentially too subtle for some users, itís preferable to the intrusive dialogue boxes of previous versions.
Web standards - Perhaps the most exciting advancement though, at least for front-end developers, is IE9ís focus on web standards. It reaches 95% in the Acid3 test Ė a test used to gauge a browserís support of CSS and HTML standards, including CSS3 and HTML5. Although itís still pipped by Chrome and Safari, itís come a long way from the 20% score of IE8.
However, despite any shortcomings all the signs are promising. And if the manufacturer of the worldís most popular browser is showing such commitment to standards compliance and browser compatibility, perhaps front-end web development can finally concentrate more on innovating and less on pandering to the quirks of outmoded browsers.
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