The Internet Explorer 9 Release Candidate is now available. For all
intents and purposes, this means IE9 is feature complete. Small changes
might occur, but it's mostly bug stomping from here on out. Download it,
give it a whirl; it might just be the first IE browser that's actually
enjoyable to use. All the DMXzone will be showed well because of the improved canvas capabilities.
Microsoft has invested a lot of time, effort and money into Internet Explorer 9 and the results really do speak for themselves. IE9 desperately wants to be your steed of choice for the HTML5 revolution.
The first and most shocking change to Internet Explorer 9 is its interface -- it's actually pretty. We regularly found ourselves minimizing IE8 whenever we had girls visiting the Download Squad bunker, but with IE9... Internet Explorer 9... let's just say that the soundproofed reinforced concrete cell has never seen so much use.
IE9 basically looks like the lovechild of Firefox and Chrome. The tabs are on top, but so is the address bar, which actually makes IE9 even more svelte than Chrome and Firefox -- but only by a few pixels. Purists might be a bit upset to find that there's no way to get tabs flush with the top of your screen -- so you can't just 'flick' your mouse to the top of the screen to select a tab -- but apparently that's a conscious decision by the User Experience team so that it's always easy to Aero Snap browser windows.
Incidentally, regarding the limited space for tabs: according to Microsoft, a massive majority of IE9 beta testers used no more than five tabs -- which we find hard to believe, but there you go! If you want more space for tabs, though, you either have the option of moving tabs to their own row (Right click the browser chrome > Show tabs on a separate row), or you can make the address bar narrower by dragging the divider between the tabs.
Like Chrome, IE9 has an all-in-one search-and-address bar, dubbed the 'One Bar' and much to our surprise it's very nearly as good. It lacks Instant, but it makes up for it with a better interface and more configurability. You can add search engines from Mycroft, but like Firefox you still have to select the search engine before you use it -- Chrome's keyword method is so much easier.
Rather curiously, as you can see in the screenshot above, the One Bar also searches your recent document history. The only way to prevent this is to turn off 'Browsing History' autocomplete, which seems more than a little heavy-handed. This could be a bug -- or maybe the IE9 team is hoping that the One Bar will absorb the Start menu's all-in-one run box?
The One Bar is also host to a plethora of buttons. The Refresh and Stop buttons are obvious enough (you can have them on the left or right side of the website address, depending on your preference), but there are no less than four more buttons crammed into the diminutive bar. There's the 'compatibility mode' button, which instructs IE9 to use the IE7 rendering engine; there's a down arrow, which pops open your search options; most excitingly, there's a magnifying glass, which lets you re-enter your last search phrase.
Privacy & Security
If you're Firefox or Chrome zealot, you'll probably be surprised to hear that IE8 was actually the best of last year's browsers when it came to privacy and security.
IE9 basically has exactly the same armament as its predecessor, except InPrivate Filtering has been rebranded as Tracking Protection and gained a little more functionality in the process. Tracking Protection is turned off by default, but if you turn it on (Cog > Safety > Tracking Protection), it automatically detects tracking cookies and blocks them. You can also download Tracking Protection Lists, which are human-curated lists that work in the same way as Chrome's extension, but you have more granular control over which cookies get blocked. TPLs are free, written in plaintext, and anyone can make them.
One of the neatest features of Tracking Protection is that it notifies you when you're on a page with a blocked cookie (see right). If you want to let the cookie through (it might be interfering with the page's functionality), just click the blue icon and that site will no longer have its cookies blocked. The same warnings appear if you enable Cog > Safety > ActiveX Filtering.
InPrivate Browsing makes a return in IE9, and it works in the same way as IE8. Pop it open with Ctrl+Shift+P, do your sensitive browsing, and then just close the window. You can open an InPrivate session from Start menu and taskbar shortcuts, too, but we'll discuss that in a moment.
Pinned sites, jump lists and more!
Moving onto functionality that actually changes how we interact with the browser, and thus the Web, we have IE9's pinned sites, a new paradigm that successfully marries your browser with Windows and makes the delineation between online and offline very fuzzy indeed. A lot has been said about pinned sites, but in essence it lets you launch websites directly from your taskbar, or the Start menu. Just drag any open tab to the taskbar or Start menu.
Pinned sites can also have jump lists, which can be added to any site with just a few lines of HTML code.
HTML5 and standards compliance
With 95/100 on the Acid3 test, 116 on the HTML5 Test and the recent addition of geolocation, IE9 is definitely a force to be reckoned with. It doesn't match Chrome or Firefox in terms of raw HTML5 and CSS3 support, but for real life use cases, IE9 is certainly good enough.
Now we move into Internet Explorer 9's tour de force: consummate fastness. It's hard to put into words how fast IE9 feels. Words like 'smooth' and 'silky' and 'baby's bottom' combined with a devilish array of prefixed expletives seem to be the only descriptions we can come up with.
Other than Chakra, the whole rendering pipeline is GPU-accelerated, meaning that your CPU and graphics card work in parallel to render websites a lot faster. The result is less power consumption on battery-powered devices, smoother scrolling, snappier zooming, and lovely HTML5 games like Pirates Love Daisies.
It's IE9's excellent performance that might give it the edge when it comes to HTML5 websites vs. Web apps.