By any objective standard, Microsoft has succeeded at the task it set out to do: build a fast, standards-compliant browser with a clean, modern design that integrates well with Windows 7. But is that enough to preserve its shrinking lead in an increasingly competitive field of browsers? Can it convince defectors to end their experiments with Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox and return to the fold? Can it excite web developers and kick up its own tempo to keep up with younger, faster competitors?
Being that I'm both young and fast, I'm intrigued by the thought of using IE for anything more than work related services. If this were a Browser Users Anonymous, I would be about to admit that I use Google Chrome almost exclusively. Gasp - you say! Well, don't flip out of your office chair and loose that Everything bagel just yet. I do have IE open all day long but for researching tech news and updating my cat's Twitter, I'll stick with Chrome. It has great bookmark-sync along with my Gmail credentials, and some great Extensions. Extensions are those handy "plug-ins" that show a GMail icon in the top of the bar, let's you block Flash, YouTube comments, and other amazing necessities.
So, can IE survive with hip youths like myself? Let's read onto some of the main points.
You can almost see the tiny hairs rise on the back of an IE9 developer’s neck if you describe the browser as minimalist . It’s refined , you are told. It is site-centric. Since the beta, IE’s designers have done even more refining and polishing. They’ve shaved a few pixels off the browser’s frame. Elements in the UI that add noise and distraction are hidden (although you can easily restore the status bar, the Favorites bar, and the Command bar if you are willing to sacrifice some screen real estate for information). The browser’s chrome doesn’t compete for your attention with the page you’re viewing.
That's a good start. I generally cringe when I see old fogies using IE as their main browser. It looks so...outdated. Some of the reasons I use Chrome are for it's design. It gets out of the way and let's the page become the focal point. Not so with previous versions of IE; the browser itself reserves most of your attentions.
Features like Protected Mode, which sandboxes IE processes and prevents rogue apps from infiltrating into higher-integrity processes, were already part of IE7 and IE8 on post-XP Windows versions. But a potentially much bigger addition to IE’s security underpinnings makes its debut in this release. It’s called ActiveX Filtering, and if you’ve ever wished for an IE equivalent to FlashBlock, your wish just came true.
Clicking ActiveX Filtering on the Safety menu acts like a master switch that universally disables all ActiveX controls on all sites. The most common ActiveX control these days, of course, is Adobe’s Flash Player. (Outside of the U.S., ActiveX is more commonly used, especially in banking applications, which makes the protection even more useful.) With ActiveX Filtering on, Flash content is silently disabled, with no prompts to install or re-enable the plugin. In my testing, this feature worked flawlessly.
In my current build of Google Chome, I have an Extension called FlashBlock. This automatically disables Flash objects from loading on websites and gives my laptop's fan a well deserved breather. Flash is notorious for causing pages to crash and also wearing down your computer. Good on you, IE.
Microsoft has also continued to invest in reducing the working set (RAM usage) for the browser. In a brief and hardly comprehensive test, I found that opening the same sequence of six tabs resulted in nearly identical memory usage between IE9 and Google Chrome 9, with a difference of less than 1%. That’s a huge improvement over IE8, where the identical set of pages required nearly 50% more RAM.
This is arguably the most importation caveat for potential IE users. I remember the browser being a little too slow for my tests - not only that - it made the rest of my computer slow. It's great to see Microsoft finally dealing with many of the longstanding IE issues that have cropped up over the years. Granted, these are only a few topics of discussion for the RC of Internet Explorer, but you will no doubt see Trigon reviewing the final build, and discussing if your small to mid-sized business can benefit from it.