Internet Explorer 9 Beta Drops. It’s Lean, Fast, and Modern

by Matt Forcey

By Michael Calore

Microsoft will release the first beta version of its new Internet Explorer web browser Wednesday morning.

Internet Explorer 9 Beta will be made available for download shortly after it is announced at a launch event in San Francisco, around 10:00am Pacific time.

The final version of IE9 is still some months off — Microsoft wouldn’t commit to a definite time frame for the browser’s release when we asked. But we’ve spent a few days in IE9 Beta’s company, and so far, it has proven to be a thoroughly modern machine. The world’s most-sed browser is getting a new look, much expanded support for HTML5 and other 21st century web technologies, and a big speed boost.

Quite a change. Microsoft has a reputation for being an also-ran when it comes to browser innovation. When IE8 arrived in March 2009, we found it rich in features, but lacking in support for the emerging standards powering the shiny apps that make the web exciting. IE8 was faster and more secure than its predecessor, but when it came to speed and productivity, it wasn’t up to snuff with its peers — Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Opera. In fact, it was a bit of a snooze.

A year and a half on, Microsoft has smelled the coffee and is wide awake at the wheel. IE is fit to play in the same league as the other browsers.

Keep in mind, IE9 Beta is still pre-release code, so it may not run perfectly. But there’s enough new going on here — especially that speed boost — to make the download a must for the curious who want a taste of IE’s future.

A new look

The most striking difference between this browser release and the IEs of old is the new user interface. It’s sleek and minimal, and — what are those? — it now has the inverted top-tabs, which are quickly becoming common.

We first caught wind of this design change when a screenshot of the new IE9 leaked onto the web. It decreases the amount of real estate the browser consumes on screen and makes way for more content.

“The browser is the stage and the backdrop, but the website is the star of the show,” Microsoft general manager of Internet Explorer Dean Hachamovitch tells Wired. “We think the browser should totally take a back seat to the sites.”

Freeing up those extra pixels with a minimal top bar is a path others in the industry are taking. Chrome shipped with the tabs-on-top look two years ago, Mozilla has adopted it for Firefox 4, and Safari has flirted with in the past. Opera offers a few different choices for where to put your tabs.

Other notable details: a unified search and URL bar (a la Google Chrome) where you can get search suggestions as you type. Bing is the default, but you can add Google, Wikipedia or a host of other engines. There’s also an enlarged back button, (a la Firefox) and a noticeable lack of menu items in the main bar. Something else new in IE9 is the New Tab window with thumbnails of your most commonly-visited sites, which looks much like what you’ll find in Safari, Chrome and Opera. A nice addition here is a little bar in each thumbnail that shows how much time you’ve spent on each site.

Via Webmonkey

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