Print 44 comment(s) - last by bjacobson.. on Nov 26 at 12:17 AM

Microsoft looks to rise to the challenge issued by Mozilla, Google, Opera, and others

In our series on browsers, we looked extensively at the latest versions (including test versions) of the top 5 mainstream browsers -- Opera 10.0, Firefox 3.6 (a1 at the time), Safari 4, Internet Explorer 8, and Google Chrome 4 (this series had four entries which you can find here 1, 2, 3, and 4).  We found that Microsoft Internet Explorer had some compelling strengths, such as its security, but overall used too much memory, CPU, and was too slow.

Microsoft is aware of these concerns and it has been racing to develop a successor to IE 8 -- Internet Explorer 9.  IE 9 looks to be everything IE 8 wasn't -- fast and lean.  With the forthcoming release, Microsoft looks to give Internet Explorer a makeover akin to the Windows Vista to Windows 7 transition.

The foundation of this effort was discussed in depth at the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles by Windows unit president Steven Sinofsky.  At the core of the changes is hardware acceleration of text and graphics.  Microsoft's Dean Hachamovitch, general manager of Internet Explorer, said the technology will be akin to Google's Native Client, used by Chrome to better utilize the processor's power, and Mozilla's WebGL, used by Firefox to provide hardware acceleration for 3D graphics.

The browser will use Direct2D, rather than the previously used GDI (Graphical Device Interface).  The hardware-acceleration will provide support for technologies such as sub-pixel positioning, which smooths text, reducing eyestrain.  The acceleration also allows the browser to keep up with displaying rich graphics, such as interactive online maps.  In side-by-side testing, Microsoft reports that an online mapping utility runs in IE 9 at 40 to 60 fps with low processor usage, while running at only 5 to 10 fps and 50 to 60 percent CPU usage in IE 8.

Mr. Hachamovitch describes the night and day comparison, stating, "It's a remarkably different level of performance.  It's like the difference between watching Pixar or an Xbox vs. watching an old PC chug along."

He adds, "This is a direct improvement to everybody's usage of the Web on a daily basis.  Web developers are doing what they did before, only now they can tap directly into a PC's graphics hardware to make their text work better and graphics work better."

The browser will also be much closer, reportedly, to the high bar of standards compliance set by the likes of Opera, Safari, Chrome, and Firefox.  Microsoft in August joined the HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) standards effort and this month it set a dozen members to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) meeting, a standards summit.  IE 9 reportedly will have almost full support for CSS 3.

Adrian Bateman, a Microsoft program manager who's involved in the standardization effort, describes, "High-quality specifications that improve interoperability between browsers are important. Our goal is to help ensure these new standards work well for Web developers and will work well in future versions of IE."

The standards and hardware acceleration efforts are merged, as Microsoft is looking to use the Direct2D support to speed up the rendering of advanced standards like Cascading Style Sheets, reducing the stress on the developer.  States Mr. Hachamovitch, "Web sites didn't have to change behavior and code in a different way [to utilize Direct2D].  With a lot of other technologies, it takes a lot of work and a lot of time to figure out how to do something different. It isn't necessarily an interoperable, standards kind of thing -- it's something from one particular vendor. We're taking interoperable implementations of things like CSS, things that developers are using and expect to work everywhere, and making them demonstrably better."

While it's unclear if SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) will finally receive official support in the release, it looks like Canvas graphics are finally likely to be onboard.  Eliot Graff, an IE lead technical editor, is working with W3C to edit the Canvas standard.  Currently on Acid3, a compatibility test, IE 9 scores a 32, versus a mere 20 percent for IE 8.

Microsoft is also working to speed up its Javascript (JS) engine.  In this respect, Microsoft lags significantly behind Chrome's V8, Firefox's TraceMonkey, Safari's Nitro, Opera's Futhark and Caracan JS engines.  John Montgomery, a leader of IE's browser compatibility and tools team says the company is giving a much better showing in the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark.  He states, "We're whipping through these faster than (IE) 8 was.  We're pretty early in the development process. There's still some stuff we can still squeeze out of the engine, but we're doing a lot better than we were."

Microsoft really needs a hit when it comes to browsing.  While it still holds a dominant position, thanks largely to its business users, its marketshare has been sliding thanks to competitors like Firefox, Chrome, and Opera.  The browser by some recent estimates has slid below 60 percent for the first time in years, while Firefox's market share may have risen as high as 30 percent.

With IE 9, Microsoft still might not offer quite the level of standards support as, say Opera, but it is taking a compelling approach -- it is saying that most of the standards it supports will receive some degree of hardware acceleration.  While not new, Microsoft certainly seems to be tackling the topic of hardware acceleration on a much broader scale than is found in the current implementations of Firefox and Chrome.  In all Microsoft's Internet Explorer 9 looks to be an intriguing release, a sign of a positive direction from the browser team, and just maybe enough to win back some of the customers Microsoft has lost to its rivals.

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RE: I don't care
By Roddy Random on 11/20/2009 10:56:27 AM , Rating: -1
RE: I don't care
By Marlonsm on 11/20/2009 11:57:56 AM , Rating: 5
Weird, my FF 3.5 is not using 400Mb of RAM for that page, it was using 99Mb with many other tabs open, including ones with video...

RE: I don't care
By Ryanman on 11/20/2009 12:52:08 PM , Rating: 2
yeah I had 5 other tabs open and i'm looking at 130mb.

RE: I don't care
By bjacobson on 11/26/2009 12:17:19 AM , Rating: 2
I'm less concerned about FF's RAM usage and more about its lack of threading (the gecko engine).

Quad core processor here and I open up a new window (I have 13 tabs that auto load) and it takes about 5 seconds before it becomes responsive. Average CPU utilization doesn't get above 25%-- one core mostly pegged while the others do nothing.

Opening the same 13 pages using Chrome and all cores peg to 100% for a second and then it's rendered.

RE: I don't care
By bug77 on 11/20/2009 2:12:03 PM , Rating: 2
70MB using Firefox 3.5, 55MB using Firefox 3.6 beta2. With few plugins installed too.
Is testing for yourself too hard or do you trust that site on principle?

RE: I don't care
By QueBert on 11/20/2009 4:13:46 PM , Rating: 1
255 megs here - Windows 7 64 bit, but prior to opening this link it was at about 250. I have 7 tabs open, none doing anything intensive like playing flash or video. FF definitely uses more memory on my PC than Safari. And I don't even have a single plugin installed. Weird.

RE: I don't care
By Xavi3n on 11/20/2009 4:54:32 PM , Rating: 1
Yep, used only 5 extra MB from 100MB to 105MB and i have 4 other tabs open.

Memory Leaks in Firefox is an outdated argument that no longer has any basis in fact.

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