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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 adiposity on 3/15/2011 4:09:25 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
I'm with Pirks on this one. Windows XP is now 10 years old, and people are complaining that Microsoft's latest browser isn't compatible with it? Then people complain of the bloat in Microsoft's products that is caused by legacy code. Is 10 years not long enough?


"Windows XP" is not 10 years old. Although RTM was released in August 2001, making it technically less than 10 years old, this is not what I mean.

The operating system that is called "Windows XP" today typically refers to Windows XP SP2/SP3. Windows XP SP2 was arguably as big a refresh as Windows Vista to Windows 7 was.

No one is running this 10-year-old OS that is being used to justify the non-support of anything pre-Vista. SP3 was released in 2008, and until last year, you could still get it pre-installed on computers from Dell, HP, and Lenovo. So, not supporting those users is simply unwise.

Personally, I welcome the death of XP, and use 7 64bit. But over half of all computers are still using XP (last year, MS said 74% of all work computers were still on XP). So can we stop pretending XP is dead already?


By omnicronx on 3/15/2011 5:24:59 PM , Rating: 2
Its 9 1/2 years old.. Was released to the public in October of 2001.

Technicalities aside, it is a 10 year old OS, and everything released after that was merely building on top of that 10 year old base.

The fact that many typically refer to XP as SP2/SP3 (whoever those people may be), is completely irrelevant. Thats not how OS design works.. The basis of Windows XP has remained relatively unchanged since 2001 (driver model, kernel/user levels etc etc), almost 10 years ago. (older if you consider its relation to Windows 2000)

FYI They are supporting the users, all the way up to Internet Explorer 8, the last version MS specifically supports(and will continue to do so). Considering it was released with IE6, I think support promises have been more than met.


By lecanard on 3/15/2011 8:14:09 PM , Rating: 2
Microsoft might be trying to kill XP deliberately. They've been trying to convince people to move on for a while now. Remember: in terms of age, using XP now is like using Windows 98 in 2007. Nobody did that. People just became very attached to it because Vista took so long and had a (only fractionally deserved) bad reputation.


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