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From the Actrix Online Informer March 2011

The new Internet Explorer 9

by Rob Zorn

As early as 2003, Internet Explorer 6 (IE6) had become established as the world’s number one choice of web-browser with 87 percent of all internet users using it to surf. However, the rapid rise of other browsers about that time (such as Firefox and Opera) forced Internet Explorer into a race that commonly became known as "Browser Wars".

Browsers became pitted against one other; trading blows with upgrades and features that claimed to have more than the rest. One gets the feeling that at that time, Microsoft didn't take the threat seriously enough, and Internet Explorer’s popularity began to fade as other browsers started offering more features and better speed. It's popularity finally dropped to less than a 50 percent market share in 2008.

Even IE7 (2007) and IE8, launched in 2009, did little to claw back Microsoft's market dominance. The smaller browsers had been copying all the best features from each other, and though these versions of IE included most of the neat things the others were doing (like tabbed browsing and built in search bars) they just didn’t have enough to make them stand out from the crowd.

However, last month saw the pre-release of IE9, and things may be about to change. Lance Ulanoff, Editor-in-Chief of PCMag.com, had looked closely at IE8 and was of the opinion that Internet Explorer’s time as the number one web browser was up. Then, when given the chance to review IE9, all he could say was "Oh, the game is on!"

What’s new with IE9?

IE9 not only brings new features to the browser table, like a slick new space-saving interface, it also offers a fine-tuned selection of some of the best features other browsers have offered. The main aspects IE9 addresses are speed and privacy, two commodities that are becoming increasingly important in the world of browsing.

In terms of speed, Microsoft says IE9 has a streamlined design that "emphasises aesthetic simplicity without taking away from its functionality". This is a good thing. My experience with IE has been that it is just "too big", loaded with features I never wanted and slower to load and operate as a result. Other browsers like Opera and Firefox seemed much nippier and less prone to stall. But by default IE now offers you the basics you need to surf the net, and gives you the option of customising your browser with extras depending on your personal preferences. Its Add-on Performance Advisor shows which third party add-ons may be slowing down performance and then lets you to disable or remove them.

It also offers a few features that allow you to complete your online activities a little faster, such as being able to search in the navigation bar and pin your favourite sites directly to your desktop.

In terms of security, IE9 offers advanced tracking protection. When you're surfing the web, many sites attempt to track your activity as you travel from one site to the next. By doing so, they know the types of products you buy and the videos you watch, so they know what kind of ads to throw at you. IE9 lets you make a Tracking Protection List which allows you to limit the amount of communication that goes on between your browser and these types of sites.

Finally, IE9 also offers users a Download Manager which keeps a running list of the files you are downloading from the internet. Other browsers have had this useful feature for a long time while, with IE, you often didn't know what was happening with your downloads or where they had gone. The Download Manager has built-in protection software which alerts you if a file you’re attempting to download has the potential to cause your computer harm. Good feature!

Is there any bad news?

Unfortunately, IE9 will only run on Windows 7 or Vista, not on XP or previous versions of Windows, and, of course, it is still not compatible with Mac computers. Users have also reported problems trying to make the transition from other web-browsers to IE9, claiming its simplicity makes it impractical. I guess for some the bells and whistles of modern browsers are catching on!

The other thing is that if you're not an IE user, any features that are really great will soon turn up in Firefox, Opera, Chrome, or whatever is your browser of choice. "Browser Wars" has literally become a case of “anything you can do, I can do better.” The browser to have released the latest upgrade may seem to pull ahead temporarily, but the others will soon follow.

However, it appears the sleeping giant has awoken and Microsoft is actively pursuing its dominant position once again. That can only be good for competition, and for all browsers in the end.

The official release date for IE9 has not yet been announced but it probably isn't far away. Modern computers running Windows Vista or 7 should automatically download and install it when it comes out, or you'll be able to download it from the Microsoft website. In the meantime, a test version, which has already been downloaded over 27 million times, is available at http://windows.microsoft.com/ie9.

 

 

Copyright © 2011 Actrix Networks Limited | Contact: editor@actrix.co.nz