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Microsoft Goes Site-Centric With New Internet Explorer Release

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Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, which remains the dominant browser but is steadily losing share, is once again trying to regain momentum, this time with the beta release of Internet Explorer 9, a browser which CVP Dean Hachamovitch said today “puts the user’s focus on the sites, not the browser.” That’s a shift in approach from Microsoft’s last major browser release two years ago, which introduced a series of fancy add-ons, like “accelerators,” which let users see additional information, like a map or a definition of a term, without navigating away from a page, and “web slices,” which let users track activity on other sites directly on the browser.

Internet Explorer 9, by contrast, is supposed to be minimalist. The address bar and the search box are combined a la Google (NSDQ: GOOG) Chrome, and browser controls have been “reduced” — all in the name of putting sites and not the browser first.

Internet Explorer’s biggest advantage over other browsers (and the main reason it has maintained its dominance for so long) is its attachment to Windows — and the new release also takes advantage of that link. Users can, for instance, “pin” favorite sites to the Windows taskbar, so they can directly access them from there. And they can also use Windows 7’s Jump Lists to quickly get to specific online tasks — like composing a new e-mail — without first having to open the browser. On the back-end, the new version is getting “expanded support” for HTML5 and “hardware-accelerated graphics and text,” which the company says will allow developers to build richer sites.

To emphasize the updates, Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) says that 70 websites have “created new experiences” that take advantage of Internet Explorer 9’s capabilities. They include CNN, the Wall Street Journal, Facebook and Twitter. The AP, for instance, has built a new, ultra-visual way to parse through the day’s news, which you can see here.

The backdrop: Despite Microsoft’s insistence last summer that it was showing “great momentum” in the browser market, its share of the browser market has continued to drop, as both Firefox and Chrome have risen, according to NetApplications. Microsoft now has 60.4 percent of the browser market in the U.S., compared to 74.18 percent in September 2008.