A year ago, I asked Microsoft to stop bothering with browsers. Internet Explorer, I argued, needed to be put down like a lame horse. For a bit of a refresher, I invite you to read up on my thoughts back then. All done? Excellent!
Some time has passed, and Microsoft has brought out Internet Explorer 9 beta. Granted they did this in September, but it was to such little fanfare that it barely blipped on the tech radar. I have since installed it and ran it through it’s paces. My verdict? Microsoft has no idea what it’s doing.
Overall, IE9 is a HUGE (and I can’t stress just HOW huge) improvement over IE8. If you remember, IE8 scored a pitiful 916 in my speed tests on Futuremark.com. IE9 clocks in at a respectable 2033. A 221% improvement is really something to take note of! The Acid3 test was IE8’s worst area; failing the test at 20/100. IE9 comes back and scores an “almost but not quite enough” 95/100. Considering how this is still a beta, there is a chance that they could make up the last 5 before the software goes gold.
So why my “fail” stamp? Well a year has gone by for Micosoft and they have put it to good use. However, a year has gone by for everyone else too. Chrome, which scored 4547 a year ago is now a blistering 8899. Firefox 4 beta clocks in at 4530 (compared to its 2456 a year ago). So while IE9’s improvements seem like a huge step forward, when you look at the whole picture they are still at the back of the pack. Like, WAY back. Like if you were being chased by a bear you want them at the back, back.
How about new standards? Well, in the past year everything has been all about HTML5. “HTML5” this, “flash is dead” that. This time, IE9 makes good on HTML5 by rendering it perfectly. I would dare say that it actually renders HTML5 content better than Chrome, the pioneer of HTML5! But while this is a very good thing, it doesn’t really support much else. All those pages that looked great in IE7, but kinda weird in IE8? IE9 turns them into a “Dr Seuss meets Salvador Dali and they drop some acid” nightmare.
Here are some other features that are hit and miss in the new IE9:
- Microsoft’s take on the OmniBar: Google introduced the OmniBar in Chrome and it was awesome. One bar to type in anything you wanted; from URL’s to math equations, it did them all. IE9 also has one that’s just as good, isn’t as bound to Bing as you might think, and is actually better laid out. Problem is, they moved it to the side to make room for your tabs. So while everything is tucked up as far as it can go at the top of your screen, you’re left squinting at what’s in the bar.
- Tabbed browsing: Still the bridesmaid in this area, Microsoft just hasn’t seemed to learn anything from their competitors in the last few years. Tabs are all still part of the same process, so if a plugin crashes one, it’s crashed them all. As pointed out in the above bullet, the tabs are all tucked up out of the way at the top. This has a very nice effect of making it look like you’re in fullscreen mode all the time and is very clean. Problem is, websites don’t look good in fullscreen! Never have, and likely never will. Speaking of plugins!
- Plugin Management: This one I’m sort of torn on. The very first time I launched IE9, I was greeted by an interesting little dialog saying that some of my plugins were actually slowing down the browser. It suggested that by disabling some of them, my browser my launch and load pages faster. “Well, duh” many people would say. But what makes this special is the fact that by clicking on the message, IE9 actually told me which plugins were taking how much time to load. Plugin that takes 1.4 seconds to launch? Kill it. BHO that takes .01 seconds? Keep it. A very nice feature that I wish all browsers have! My only gripe is the fact that after using this tool for a bit, a picture quickly emerged; all the really slow plugins were from Microsoft!!!
- User notifications: Remember that yellow bar that always popped up along the top of your web pages? It’s now a little yellow tab that pops up along the bottom. I hate it, but it’s a personal thing. I notice things at the top faster than I do at the bottom and I find myself missing the notifications quite often.
So, there’s my assesment; better, but it would’ve been hard NOT to be!