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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

16 Responses to “Internet Explorer 9: A More Beautiful Web?”

  1. IE9 is, like all previous versions of IE, doomed to stay perpetually behind all the other browsers, as Microsoft’s release cycle is a matter of years, while Chrome releases a major new version every few months or sometimes weeks.

  2. I gotta be honest; when hopping between my home, work, friends, and families computers, in 2010 more of the issues are because of either old hardware, dirty hard drives, or mismanaged add-ons across all the browsers listed. On a well maintained machine, I can upload/download and view anything without issues. Sorry to fanboys on all sides.

    But I welcome any improvements to IE. It’s not the piece of garbage people make it out to be…

  3. IE holds 50% of the market share only because its older versions is used in public libraries and schools. In reality, it is so not popular that I don’t think it will ever reach Mozilla’s or Opera’s success. We’ve tried IE and learned a pitiful lesson so my default browser will still be Chrome for its speed. And it also gives me a beautiful web.

  4. 95/100 is a perfect score for Acid3. The remaining 5 points that IE9 fails on are scheduled to be removed from HTM5 specification for CSS fonts. Acid3 is NOT a true reflection of browser standards compliance – it is developed by a Google employer, and is designed to give weight to certain aspects that are NEVER used in any real world webpage.

    • I would have tested Safari if IE9 was available for Mac. I suppose I could have tested Safari, too, but I wasn’t going for a comprehensive browser shootout, I just wanted to see how well IE stacked up against the current crop. Having Safari in the test group wouldn’t have added to that.

  5. chrisdpratt

    Color me unsurprised: IE9 is better than IE8 but still behind every other browser.

    For the life of me, I can’t figure out why Microsoft won’t just simply dump Trident and switch to WebKit. It should be more than painfully obvious at this point that Trident is a POS. They keep polishing it but at the end of the day, a turd is a turd.

  6. IE9 has made great progress as far as its backend technologies go. We’re talking a spanking brand new HTML5 parser, same as Webkit, Firefox and Opera. That gives us inline SVG. And they put in hardware acceleration for canvas and finally gave us CSS3 selectors. However, like very version of IE before it, they failed to give the visual styling part of CSS3 any importance. This means that all those fancy site out there for Firefox, Chrome, Opera, Safari, Android, iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad will get rendered, well, like IE6 does. We’re talking a complete jumbled mess.
    So I’m saying it like it is: IE9 is the IE6 of CSS3. Period.
    If you want to see how badly IE9 fails at rendering CSS3, read this article:

  7. Acid3 and Kraken.
    Why not look at how it displays things like text and box shadows?
    And include Safari in the test as well?
    Websites that use text and box-shadows sure look a lot better in Safari and Safari allows you to use placeholder and required in contact forms, so there’s no need for an additional php file. Which increases speed.

    • Opera’s definitely a very good browser right now, very fast (and it’s always been very good at adhering to standards). Speed and standards compliance aren’t the be-all and end-all, though, there’s features, access to your favorite extensions, etc. I’d also point out that using with some other speed benchamrks (Dromaeo, for example), Chrome beats Opera, it depends on the test cases.