has followed the lead of a certain
fruity competitor and has unveiled one of its star products
at a special event in San Francisco. Dubbed "The Beauty of
the Web", Microsoft announced the public availability of a
Internet Explorer 9 beta build.Microsoft's press
today, tech-savvy consumers can download the beta of IE9 and test
drive the new browsing experience at some of the Web’s most popular
sites. At the “Beauty of the Web” event in San Francisco, more
than 70 top sites and global brands showcased new sites and Web-based
applications they have built to take advantage of the new
capabilities IE9 offers. Sites such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and
LinkedIn, and global brands such as Quiksilver, Red Bull, Livestrong
and Amazon are showcasing experiences that take advantage of IE9’s
ability to tap into the power of the whole PC and modern standards
such as HTML5 to offer rich immersive experiences, and to integrate
sites seamlessly with Windows 7.
new browser is not supported
for Windows XP. While Windows Vista support is coming, the
initial beta only offers 32-bit and 64-bit Windows 7 version.
It is, however, offered in 33 languages. (Correction: Apparently Microsoft is offering the beta for Vista users as well. Simply click the appropriate download link, and a Vista-compatible download should start if you're running on Windows Vista.)The beta is available
for download here.Firefox
4 beta 6 also launched this week. Some may recall that Firefox
4 beta 5 landed
just last week and remember our prediction that beta 6 would
land in October. Well beta 6 isn't a full
it's what Mozilla calls a "small beta". Apparently
beta 5, which brought hardware rendering to Firefox, had some issues
and Mozilla had to rush a fix. The company writes:
decided to issue a small beta update in order to fix a stability
issue on Windows and some rendering
and keyboard/mouse focus issues on OSX related to plugins.
This small update should be ready late tomorrow, and will be
presented as "Firefox
4 Beta 6".
6 is replaced by beta 7, which is still expected to land in the
timeframe we suggested -- sometime in October. The final
release of the browser is still expected to be November 2010.
can download the "small beta" Firefox 4 beta 6 here. II.
are a lot of various browser benchmarks out there, but only a few
good ones. We wanted to get a variety of tests to compare the
speed of the IE 9 beta and the latest Firefox 4 beta, so we included
an overall test (Peacekeeper by
FutureMark), a CSS Test (How
Celtic Kane's JSBenchmark),
Additional we have added three new tests -- FishIE Tank, Psychedelic Browser, and Flying Images. All of these tests focus heavily on rendering, thus give a feel for the speed of hardware acceleration. Note the heavy edge of Firefox 4 beta 6 and Internet Explorer 9 beta 1 over Google Chrome 6 on these tests (Chrome won't get hardware acceleration until Chrome 7). Note, Microsoft also makes all of these tests, so there may be some sort of favoritism there -- but we hope not.
results are below, with benchmark results from Google's
recent Chrome 6 stable release for comparison. Why
Chrome 6? Google Chrome is generally the fastest browser, so
its a good index of how truly fast these two browsers are, not just
which is faster than the other.You can download Chrome
results are as follows:
Likewise Microsoft manages to narrowly take all three of its rendering tests -- but it may have a home court advantage here.
Whether it's a little faster than Firefox 4, or a littler slower, this is still an incredible turnaround given IE 8's slow performance compared to FF 3. At long last Microsoft has a browser that is no longer painfully slow to use. Over all Firefox does win a couple of benchmarks, though, likely due to its superior overall standards support.Of course, if you're looking for pure
speed, Chrome 6 blows away both browsers. But speed isn't
everything -- usability is equally, if not more important. And
that brings us to...III.
Features, Functionality, and Looksi.
Tabs and the Address BarAs
previously reported, Internet Explorer 9's beta brings a dramatic
new look, which follows Firefox 4's approach of merging menu
items and hiding them inside icon drop-down menus. Except IE 9
takes things a step farther, cutting the taskbar down to a single
line. Whereas Firefox 4 has the tabs above the task bar,
Internet Explorer 9 has the address bar to the left of the tabs.The
upside of this approach is that with a small number of tabs (less
than 10) you have much more screen real-estate. Web pages are
easier to read and there's less visual distraction. The
downside is that with slightly more tabs open (10 to 20) the line
space lost to the address bar is sorely missed, as finding your tab
is hard to do. Ultimately, Microsoft made a tradeoff here, but
we feel that it probably picked the better choice for most
users.One additional note is that when you search using
CTRL+F, it does add
another line to your browser bar.A nice feature in Mozilla
worth noting is the quick tab preview, available in the top right,
beneath the "x" icon. This allows you to quickly
reach tabs, especially when you have too many tabs open for Aero
This feature is made even nicer by "tab sets", formerly known as tab candy. A new feature in Firefox 4, you can click on any tab and assign it to a new group. To name groups, you must click the quick tab preview. You can also drag and drop tabs into appropriate groups from the quick tab preview. You can also make a new group in the quick tab preview by dragging your mouse on an empty area and releasing.
Also new to Firefox 4 is the ability to make app tabs. App tabs show up as small icons to the left of your standard tabs -- great for frequently used sites.
Windows 7 PolishIE
9 has the clear edge over Firefox 4 in Windows 7 polish as well.
It offers Aero Peek. To access this, simply hover your mouse
over the IE 9 icon in Windows 7 to see previews of active tabs.
It also offers pinning. To pin a site, simply drag a tab to
your taskbar on the bottom of your screen. Many pinned sites
also have the ability to use jump lists, to jump to commonly used
functionality. Last, but not least, IE 9 allows you to drag
tabs to the side of your screen, and they will automatically "snap"
-- the proprietary "Aero Snap" feature.Of these
features Firefox 4 only has Aero Peek. Granted, it also offers
OS X and Linux compatibility -- something Microsoft doesn't offer.
And also bear in mind that while the Windows 7 graphical polish with
Internet Explorer 9 looks extremely slick, it won't be accessible to
Windows Vista users.Both browsers also have Aero Glass themes
-- thus their GUIs look somewhat similar. Also note that Aero
peek fails in both browsers when you have too many tabs open -- the
items are reverted to a list.iii.
4 has some distinct advantages over IE 9. One is the browsers'
prolific extensions community. Extensions have lots of uses,
but for the average user they boil down to a few things -- GUI
examine the extensions closer, though, you realize that IE 9 doesn't
really lose that much by not offering them. It offers colored
tabs in its stock form (child tabs and their parent get a common
color) -- you need an extension in Firefox to do this.Likewise
IE 9 offers quick translation of text, without any add-ons.
Just highlight text, click the small square icon that comes up
(unless a specific page blocks it), and then hover over "Translate
with Bing".While the speed tweaks (FasterFox) are nice,
they don't make that big of a difference. Ad-blocking can be a
bit more contentious topic. Some users swear by it, and won't
use sites with ads. However, in Firefox, AdBlock alone
typically isn't enough to hide all the ads on a page. You also
increasing found is that this ends up making a chore out of browsing
many pages -- you have to selectively figure out what to
block/unblock to hide the ads without hiding/breaking desired
content.At the end of the day if you want to spend extra time
to block ads, Firefox's extension may make the crucial difference in
your browser choice. But if you want to simply surf the web
without making a chore of ad-blocking, IE 9 is perfectly fine.iv.
do have a major complaint with Firefox's new menu system. Many
important items are hidden (e.g. downloads) and you have to press ALT
to reach them via the traditional menus. In IE 9 these kinds of
features are slickly integrated into the right most two icons (the
star and the gear). Granted, there are keyboard shortcuts for
these things in Firefox 4 (CTRL+J for downloads, for example), but
most non-tech-savvy users tend to rely on menus more heavily then
keyboard shortcuts.Note Microsoft's IE 9 also has keyboard
shortcuts, so it doesn't force users to choose.Other major
complaints with Firefox 4 include the new "go to tab"
feature. While this might seem like
a good idea, users tend to use a couple of different websites and
often like to open multiple copies of the site. This makes it a
real pain if you actually want
to open multiple copies of the same page. And if you have
enough tabs to make this worthwhile, you probably have to many tabs
open to be efficient in the first place.v.
gripe is Firefox's lack of sandboxing. During our benchmarks,
two of them crashed in Internet Explorer -- PeaceKeeper and
TaskSpeed. While this may seem like a bad thing, what was great
was that the other tabs not only were utterly unaffected, but the
affected page automatically reloaded.When Firefox crashes, it
crashes hard. While the "Restore Session" feature can
ease the pain, Mozilla obviously trails in terms of making an
error-proof browser. And where as Mozilla previously seemed to
have a memory advantage over Internet Explorer 8 because of
sandboxing, quick peeks at our task manager during testing, show IE 9
to have a similar or leaner memory footprint (of its combined
processes) than Firefox 4.vi.
Internet Explorer 9 allows you to browse InPrivate side by side with
normal browsing. This is dangerous in that you could
accidentally browse in the wrong window and breach your session's
privacy. But on the other hand, it's nice to be able to keep
your list of active tabs up, while you have a private
session.Firefox 4, on the other hand, requires you to stop
your current browsing when you want to go private. So there's
less risking of accidentally typing in the wrong window -- but you
don't have access to your currently open tabs. Additionally
when you exit private mode, all of your tabs reload.Overall
we think Internet Explorer 9 has the superior privacy implementation,
though you have to be a bit more careful with it.
vii. Standards ComplianceFirefox has the ability to sync bookmarks, history, passwords, and other user profile items in its stock build. A common preconception was that Internet Explorer 8 was unable to do this. It did have the ability, but required certain third party extensions such as Xmarks. Its safe to assume that Internet Explorer 9 will see third party syncing support, if Microsoft doesn't get its act together and build it in.
4 and Microsoft both offer support for most of the bleeding edge web
standards HTML 5, CSS 3, SVG graphics, DOM L2 and L3, etc.
There are a few less prolific web standards that IE 9 doesn't support
and Firefox 4 does. However, overall IE 9 should be ready for
the vast majority of web pages.This is over-simplifying
things a bit. The two browsers do differ in what codecs they
use for HTML 5 videos. We discuss the different codecs in this
previous piece. At the end of the day Microsoft deserves a lot
of credit for waking up from its previous state of standards
ignorance (in the days of IE 6 and IE 7)ix.
between the Windows 7 polish, the sandboxing/superior stability, the
superior private browsing implementation, more screen real-estate,
and the easier to use menu system, we feel Internet Explorer 9 is the
better browser in terms of features. That's not to say Firefox
4 isn't a good browser -- or that it doesn't have some edges on IE 9 (namely, the ability to block ads if you take enough time, the addition of some nice tab improvements (tab sets, app tabs), and the ability to quickly sync your settings across the internet). But
at the end of the day the annoyances of Firefox 4 combined with the
polish of IE 9 is enough to give IE 9 a slight edge in overall features,
functionality, and looks.IV.
edge in looks, features, and functionality. Ultimately we feel
this is enough to recommend IE 9 beta 1 as
the superior browser.There are a few special use scenarios
where we would recommend Firefox 4 instead, though:1. If
you are dead set on blocking ads.2. If you are a developer
and are aided by certain extensions or need access to be able to load
pages with certain less prevalent web standards which IE 9 does not
support.A final note is that Microsoft's Internet Explorer
has long held a significant edge over Firefox in manageability in
terms of corporate mass deployments. Most IT folks will confirm
this. Now that Internet Explorer 9 has finally caught up to
Firefox in terms of speed, standards compliance, and looks, its
almost scary to imagine what it will be capable of.If the IE
8 was able to hang on to 60 percent market share, IE 9 seems likely
to grow Microsoft's share. And Firefox 4 finds itself in a
tough place, as it faces an increasingly popular Google Chrome and
has difficulty differentiating itself as the superior offering to
Internet Explorer, like it once did.
Update 1 -- Thur. Sept. 16, 2010 11:50 a.m.:
We admittedly left a few odds and ends out of this review. Namely, we did not explicitly discuss two strong new features of Firefox -- Firefox Sync and Tab Candy. We will add in discussion of these shortly, but they ultimately don't effect the overall conclusions of the piece.
As to GPU rendering, the above benchmarks should add a bit of insight into speed of implementation in IE 9 and Firefox 4. Ultimately, though we haven't come across any major stability issues with hardware rendering in either browser. And both browser likely implement hardware rendering using the same Direct2D calls, so we're going to call it a draw in this category for now.
Update 2 -- Thur. Sept. 16, 2010 12:50 p.m.:
We fixed the Celtic Kane JSBenchmark section, which we incorrectly labeled as lower being better. With this fix, IE 9b1 now takes 2/3 of the JS benchmarks. We also added 3 rendering tests, which IE 9b1 beats FF 4b6 in. We corrected the conclusions to accurately state that it appears that Microsoft has the slight speed edge, given these findings.
Update 3 -- Thur. Sept. 16, 2010 12:55 p.m.:
All testing was done on a 64-bit Windows 7 Professional Edition. The hardware used was a MacBook Pro with an Intel Core 2 Duo Processor T9600, a NVIDIA GeForce 9600M GT GPU, and 4 GB of DDR RAM.