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However, IE9 isn't quite up to par with other consumer internet browsers on the market

Microsoft's Internet Explorer 9, Microsoft Corp.'s latest and greatest browser released today in finalized form.  So why should we care?

Well two stories dominated when it comes to IE9.  The first the media will be sure to talk about; the other you'll probably hear little talk of.

I. IE9 as a Consumer Browser -- Not Worth It

First the more obvious story -- Microsoft is improving, but arguably not fast enough.  IE9 looks and feels like a modern browser.  

It also looks and feels noticeably slower than ChromeOpera, or even Firefox.  While the gap is not as wide as in past versions (e.g. IE8, or esp. IE 7) it is visibly apparent.  Open a page on DailyTech in Chrome, and you see text literally seconds a second or two later.  Open the same page in IE 9 and you get a distinct pause as several seconds pass, before article text loads.

This qualitative example is indicative of our test drives of IE9 as a whole.  While the speed isn't horrible, if you've been using a modern browser like Chrome or Opera, you'll definitely get frustrated at the ever-present delay.

Standards support is a remarkably similar story. Microsoft has gained ground by implementing parts of the HTML5 and CSS3 standards, but the percentage of support for these standards is far lower than rival browsers.

We're still in the process of testing the beast, but it looks to support only about a quarter of the HTML5 standard, according to the test The HTML5 Test.  Microsoft would argue that's because the standard isn't fully defined.  But that seems a weak excuse -- that hasn't stopped Opera, Google, and Mozilla from not only taking an active part in the standard, but also support it more fully.

Microsoft finds itself in a familiar role of publicly arguing why it shouldn't have to fully standards -- but in an interesting twist it's now committing itself to a bipolar effort of quietly trying to catch up in these same standards, as well.  The results, as one might imagine, are mixed.

Aside from speed and standards, Microsoft's browser has a clean look to it.  Its sharp defined lines bring to mind Microsoft's Metro GUI style, which the company used extensively on the defunct Zune and the active Windows Phone 7.

The browser lacks, though, cutting edge features being implemented elsewhere like tab stacking/grouping.  And while ostensibly it offers "add-ons"/"extensions", its catalog is anemic to say the least.  Firefox, Opera, and Chrome users will wince at the lack of ad/JavaScript blocking. 

Yet another place where Microsoft falls behind is in the installation process.  IE 9 requires a number of Windows Updates in order be able to install.  For us, one of these updates had been failing several times in Windows Update, so this was a rather painful process.  If Google, Mozilla, and Opera can make stand-alone installers, it's inexcusable that Microsoft, the world's largest software company, can't.

II. IE9 as a Work Browser -- Not so Shabby

So, the other story here is how IE 9 fares in the business setting.  While it languished in the world of home users, Microsoft remains strong in the workplace.  

Overall Firefox and Chrome can be managed, but require a lot more IT effort than IE 9.  Internet Explorer remains the king of business browsers in terms of manageability, security, and reliability.  When you factor in that many business have built their portals' web code to run optimally in Internet Explorer, IE 9 gains yet more of an advantage -- though perhaps a bit unfair one.

At the end of the day, IE 9's improvements will really start to shine for business users.  While IE 9 may seem dated and tardy as a consumer browser, in an IT setting we're used to getting less.  If you were stuck with IE 8 before, IT department willing, you'll get a huge boost with IE 9.

Most in the media, in their rush to note IE 9's insufficiencies from a home user perspective, won't stop to recognize that it is an excellent browser from a business perspective.  We feel this is an equally compelling story and definitely worth noting.

III. Conclusions

Microsoft has two key strengths when it comes to browsers -- its strong business reputation and the fact that, for better or worse, in the U.S. it can still bundle its browser as the exclusive pre-installed browser in Windows.

The company currently owns between 55 and 65 percent of the browser market, depending on whose numbers you trust.  This dominant positions in underpinned by those aforementioned strengths.  

Are people really to lazy to go out and download a third party browser?  In many cases the answer is "yes" (though obviously not for most of our readers).  Thus IE 9 will eventually roll out to these users through the Windows Update process and Microsoft will hang on to its lead.

On the other hand, Microsoft likely recognizes the writing on the wall.  Home users are becoming increasingly educated with each passing decade, and it can't hope to keep relying on its pre-packaged approach to be able to push a sub-par product indefinitely.

In that regard IE 9 is perhaps a sign that Microsoft is getting serious about performance and standards.  And while it’s still far behind in these categories, its large market share arguably buys it the time it needs to catch up.

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By bug77 on 3/15/2011 12:53:05 PM , Rating: 2
No, it still means IE9 is the only major browser that doesn't run on WinXP.

By themaster08 on 3/15/2011 1:09:29 PM , Rating: 1
To reiterate the point that Pirks made, how many XP users are actually up-to-scratch with their updates anyway? Who uses an XP machine to run the latest and greatest applications and DX11 games? Oh, wait....

By PrinceGaz on 3/15/2011 2:12:01 PM , Rating: 2
My XP box is fully up-to-date and is still my main machine (built Aug 2005, though with a more recent graphics card and hard-drive). It will run pretty much anything satisfactorily, and as for DX11 games, I do use it for games but the only recent one I'm especially interested in is Civ V, for which it meets or exceeds all the minimum requirements.

I used to build a new box every two or three years but it just doesn't seem necessary these days when my five year old one is still working fine. Perhaps when Civ V is fully released (all the expansion packs), I might take the plunge then, but for now I'll stick with XP and my browser of choice, Opera.

By heffeque on 3/15/2011 3:38:53 PM , Rating: 2
This article says that IE9 is slower than the rest of the browsers but... just tested this:

I get +60fps on IE9.
I get 14 fps on Chrome.
I get 4 fps on Firefox 3.6.

Not everything on IE9 is slow.

Either way, I still use Firefox as my main browser and Chrome and Safari occasionally.

By bug77 on 3/15/2011 4:25:17 PM , Rating: 2
Nice, but I bet you have acceleration off for Chrome. With acceleration on, it gets 60+. And so does FF4.

By EricMartello on 3/15/2011 6:31:29 PM , Rating: 2
I got 23 FPS on FF3.6 and 60+ with the FF4 RC4. I think anything that bypasses GDI for graphics is going to do well, and if it can make use of GPU acceleration that's even better.

By kmmatney on 3/15/2011 7:08:16 PM , Rating: 3
Plenty of people use XP with the latest and greatest software. I have yet to ever play a game (or run any app for that matter) that didn't run on XP.

Some of us also have several computers at our house (seven at mine), and its just not practical to upgrade all of them. Its easier for me to just put chrome on all of them, and forget about IE. Both my wife and I are still using XP at out workplaces as well.

By Silver2k7 on 3/17/2011 7:53:14 AM , Rating: 2
"No, it still means IE9 is the only major browser that doesn't run on WinXP."

If people with XP wanted new software they would not be using XP ;)

"And boy have we patented it!" -- Steve Jobs, Macworld 2007

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