Have you been trying out the platform previews, beta, or release candidate of Internet Explorer 9? Or were you reluctant to use possibly buggy software? Well, there’s no need to worry anymore, as the final release of the latest and greatest version of Microsoft’s browser is finally released, after almost exactly one year since the first platform preview.
We’ve covered Internet Explorer 9 numerous times in the past. Microsoft has definitely put a lot of effort into this, incorporating hardware graphics acceleration, HTML5, CSS3, as well as significantly improved performance.
So here’s a quick overview of the best new features of Internet Explorer 9.
New Streamlined Interface
Borrowing some design ideas from other browsers, Microsoft has redesigned IE9’s interface to be streamlined and simpler. The back button is larger than the forward button. Tabs can be positioned next to the address bar or in the classic location underneath. Also gone is the status bar and the search bar (which is now combined into the address bar).
When Internet Explorer has a message to give users, such as a download confirmation, it will no longer open a pop-up and interrupt what you’re doing. Instead, a little overlay bar will appear near the bottom of the screen. This window also shows download status.
GPU acceleration allows the browser to give certain rendering tasks directly to the graphics hard, allowing less CPU to be used and for graphics to render faster.
You can compare the graphics capabilities of various browsers using the many demo projects Microsoft has created.
As with IE8, tabs are isolated in their own process allowing one tab to crash without dragging the entire browser with it.
Internet Explorer 9 supports some HTML5 elements, like video and geolocation, and some CSS3 elements, like border radius and selectors. This is the first version of Internet Explorer to support HTML5 and CSS3 at all.
Windows 7 Application Shortcuts
An idea that originated with Chrome, IE9 lets users pin a specific site (typically a web app) to their taskbar. Web developers can add a few lines of code to their pages to add some Windows 7 Jumplist actions. This is already available on sites like Facebook and Pandora.
Clicking these application shortcuts opens a new IE9 window themed according to the site’s favicon colors.
Add-on Performance Advisor
Add-ons can slow down the browser and sometimes it can be difficult to track down which add-ons are causing problems. IE9 features an add-on performance advisor that lists the add-ons that are causing the most performance issues.
There is no way to open this window manually but it can be accessed when IE gives a notice that startup can be sped up by disabling add-ons.
Sometimes, users want to visit a site without having to load unnecessary Flash animations or Java applets, which often slow things down. IE9 includes a new ActiveX Filtering feature which disables plugins like Flash and Java unless the user explicitly enables ActiveX on a site. This greatly improves security as well as performance.
Do Not Track Privacy
A lot of advertising networks use some form of tracking to help serve behavior-targeted ads. However, some may find this too invading on their privacy. IE9 supports a form of the upcoming Do Not Track standard by allowing users to block certain scripts like Quantcast and Google Analytics from running.
This feature can also function as an adblocker. You can even add a Tracking Protection list that’s based on Adblock Plus’s EasyList subscription.
Internet Explorer was the only major browser out there that still did not have a downloads manager. IE9 finally adds one to manage downloads instead of using multiple download status windows.
New Tab Page
Internet Explorer has had a new tab page since version 7.0 but this time, it has taken some ideas from Chrome and created a page that automatically shows the thumbnails of the sites you visit most often.
Drag and Drop Tabs w/ Aero Snap
Microsoft has greatly improved rearranging tabs by implementing better dragging and dropping. Tabs can now be dragged out to form new windows and can also be dragged to the sides or top of the screen in Windows 7 to make use of the Aero Snap feature.
No Windows XP Support
Internet Explorer 9 cannot be installed on Windows XP and requires Windows Vista or higher. According to Microsoft, this is because the hardware acceleration features aren’t compatible with the drivers on XP. However, Mozilla has proven with Firefox 4.0 that hardware accelerated graphics on XP is possible.
Perhaps this is just a way to get XP users to upgrade.
Internet Explorer 9 is a giant leap forward for Microsoft. Existing IE users will find the new features very pleasing. While I think this definitely ignites the browser wars even more, this release seems to be more of a catch-up for Microsoft. It has introduced many features that were already available in other browsers and while I am very impressed with the finished product, it doesn’t really introduce anything revolutionary into the browser market.
I think all Windows Vista+ users should definitely consider upgrading as this is a huge improvement and as with all IE versions, even if you don’t use IE regularly, keeping it updated helps your entire computer run better.
Now it’s your turn. What do you think of Internet Explorer 9? What’s your favorite feature? Do you think it will help Microsoft stay competitive in the browser wars? If you switched away from IE, will this release win you back? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.