Internet Explorer 9: A More Beautiful Web?

Microsoft (s msft) today launched the beta of Internet Explorer 9, the latest version of its venerable browser. Over the years, IE has fallen behind its competitors in terms of raw speed and standards compliance. So has the new version done anything to make up that lost ground? I ran it through some benchmarking tools to find out.

The Tests

In order to test the browsers’ standards compliance, I used Acid3, which checks a browser’s ability with certain aspects of the web standards. The Acid3 test returns a score out of 100.

As you can see, while the IE9 beta is not quite as good as its main competitors in terms of standards compliance, its score of 95 is streets ahead of the old IE8, which only scored a lowly 20.

To test the speed of the browsers I used Kraken, Mozilla’s new JavaScript benchmarking tool, which attempts to test JavaScript performance using a series of tests that attempt to replicate realistic workloads. While benchmark tests results should always be taken with a pinch of salt as they can never exactly match real world conditions, they do at least provide an indicator of browser performance. The score returned by Kraken is the time it takes the browser to complete the tests, with a lower figure being better.

As you can see, IE9 is still lagging behind its competitors a little. However, it’s a vast improvement on the previous version. I haven’t included IE8 on this chart as when I tried to benchmark it, it wouldn’t make it through the Kraken tests without crashing. I did manage to get it to run through on an older Windows XP machine, and it scored an incredibly slow 348,056 ms. Even though the XP machine is slower than my test machine, that’s an order of magnitude worse than the new version, and shows just how much better IE9 is at handling complex JavaScript.

For a More Beautiful Web?

Microsoft’s tagline for the release of this new browser is, “Unleash a more beautiful web.” That might sound a bit overblown, but when you consider that IE’s market share is still hovering somewhere around 50 percent, the fact that the new release has much greater support for the newer web standards like HTML5 is significant.

Microsoft has obviously invested a lot of effort in getting IE up to scratch, and assuming it can get a reasonable proportion of the users of older versions of the browser to upgrade, IE9 should greatly accelerate the development of more powerful, feature-packed web apps. That’s because developers will be much more likely to develop sites that rely on complex JavaScript, HTML5 and CSS3 if they know those features are broadly supported in the browser market. I’d hope that Microsoft would consider releasing IE9 for older versions of Windows, too, as that will help to ensure that a greater percentage of users upgrade.

While it would be very hard to argue that IE9 is superior to any of its competitors, it’s now in the same ballpark, at least. Microsoft has now joined the new browser wars: wars that are being fought on speed and capability with the newer web standards. That’s good news for everyone.

You can download the beta of IE9 from; it’s currently only available for Windows 7 and Vista.

Let us know what you think of IE9 in the comments.

Related GigaOM Pro content (sub req’d): HTML5’s a Game-Changer for Web Apps