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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.