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Getting To Know Internet Explorer Again

Web Browser Grand Prix 3: IE9 Enters The Race
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It's been a while since I've used Internet Explorer for any significant amount of time (a dozen years, to be exact). I switched from Netscape to IE for version 3, and then to Firefox at version 6. Internet Explorer simply wasn't an option in the past few years because I've been using Linux. Naturally, much of Microsoft's newest browser is consequently new to me. So, let's get to know Internet Explorer again.

Brand New User Interface

The default user interface layout of Internet Explorer 9 follows the recent minimalist trend begun by Chrome. Also like Chrome, the IE9 address bar and search bar have become one. The one bar handles searches through Bing (by default), as well as URLs.

UI staples like the menu bar, status bar, and even the title bar are absent. So are the favorites bar and toolbar. In order to save even more space, the tab bar is on the same row as the one bar. Below are side-by-side screenshots of IE8 and IE9 in their default views.

IE8IE8IE9IE9

Users who prefer the older UI layout have the option to change it substantially. The tab bar can be to moved to its own row below the one bar. You can also bring back the status bar at the bottom of the window. So too can the menu bar be restored below the tab or one bar. Finally, a toolbar/favorites bar can be added below the menu, tab, or one bar. Altogether, these changes make IE9 look a whole lot like IE8, sans the search bar, and tabs a few rows higher.

IE9 With Tab RowIE9 With Tab RowIE9 Full ViewIE9 Full View

Pinning Sites

Web sites can now be pinned to the taskbar, just like applications. To pin a site, simply drag a tab to the taskbar. The favicon of the site becomes the icon used in the taskbar. Launching the pinned site opens a separate Internet Explorer window. The blue elements in the UI even take on the primary color of the favicon to distinguish pinned sites.

As you can see in the screenshot above, pinning Bing to the Windows 7 task bar creates a custom Bing IE9 window. Unfortunately for Vista users, this feature is exclusive to Windows 7.

Pinning individual sites may be the intended purpose of this feature. However, up to seven other sites can be added to the pinned shortcut. Essentially, each pinned site is an instance of IE with its own home settings. The pinned site is the home page, but in Internet Explorer there is also something called home page tab groups.

Right-click on the favicon of the pinned site while in another tab and select Add as home page. Unfortunately, like IE8 before it, IE9 is restricted to a maximum of eight home tabs.

Even with this limitation, IE9 provides baked-in tab management, and that's a plus. This feature is useful of grouping tabs together for specific tasks, or its intended purpose of simply pinning favorite Web sites to the taskbar for quick access.

Compatibility 180

With Internet Explorer 9, Microsoft is reversing its previous stance on standards. Compliance with upcoming open Web standards, such as HTML5 and CSS3, are front-and-center in the development of IE9. Later on, we'll take a look at how well the company did in our section on compliance testing. I did, however, notice that my own blog now functions properly in the world's most widely-used Web browser. Below is a screenshot of my home page displayed in IE8 juxtaposed next to IE9.

Obviously, the IE9 image (on the right) is how it should be displayed, which is how it's displayed in nearly every other Web browser still in active development. A lot of time goes into making IE6-IE8 work acceptably. Web developers, let loose a collective "Hooray"!

Speed

Microsoft also made performance a top priority during the development of Internet Explorer 9. The brand new Chakra JavaScript engine promises dramatic improvements over IE8. When Microsoft released the IE9 platform preview, it smoked a lot of the benchmarks. But the platform preview was pre-alpha with absolutely no features enabled (not even back/forward). Just how much of that performance translates to a fully-functioning Web browser remains to be seen.

Enough talk. Let's see if Microsoft Internet Explorer 9 can walk the walk. On to the benchmarks!

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