Web Browser Grand Prix 3: IE9 Enters The Race

With highly-anticipated Microsoft Internet Explorer 9 now available, along with recently released Google Chrome 10, superb Opera 11, newly updated Apple Safari 5.04, and rock-steady Mozilla Firefox 3.6, this is going to be quite an interesting race.

A good nine months have passed since Web Browser Grand Prix 2. Back in July, we pit Chrome 5, Firefox 3.6.6, Internet Explorer 8, Opera 10.60, and Safari 5 against each other. Because it's been so long, let's take a minute and get up to speed on the major Web browser events since WBGP2:

07/22/10: Google moves Chrome to a rapid six week release cycle.

09/02/10: Chrome 6 is released.

10/19/10: Chrome 7 is released.

12/02/10: Chrome 8 is released.

12/16/10: Opera 11 is released.

01/12/11: Google announces that it will be dropping H.264 support from Chrome.

01/27/11: Opera is updated to 11.01 (the current stable version).

02/02/11: Microsoft releases a H.264 plug-in for Chrome.

02/04/11: Chrome 9 is released.

02/07/11: Mozilla announces an accelerated Firefox release cycle. Firefox 5, 6, and 7 slated for 2011.

02/08/11: Adobe releases Flash 10.2.

02/15/11: In a personal blog post, Mozilla's Paul Rouget claims that IE9 is not a modern Web browser.

03/04/11: Firefox is updated to 3.6.15 (the current stable version).

03/09/11: Safari is updated to 5.04 (the current stable version).

03/14/11: Internet Explorer 9 is released.

03/15/11: Google previews a WebM plug-in for IE9.

That pretty much covers all the important releases, announcements, and associated drama. The browser wars are definitely heating up, and it seems like the fastest browser on the block is always just around the corner. Today, Internet Explorer 9 is the latest and most anticipated entry in the WBGP. Does Microsoft have a “modern” browser with IE9, or is everyone still better off with a competing solution? We'll find out soon enough, but first, let's take a look at what's new in the just-released Internet Explorer version 9.

Update: 03/21/11 09:30 PM PST

The comment section has absolutely exploded regarding the absence of Firefox 4 in WBGP3. Our responses have gone largely unnoticed, and the comments continue. So, we decided to address the issue with an official statement.

First, we only test final builds in this series. Alphas, betas, release candidates, the dev channel, canary builds, etc. are not tested, and certainly not compared to stable final products.

Second, WBGP3 was begun on Monday March 14th with the release of Internet Explorer 9. WBGP3 was not reserved for Firefox 4. After WBGP2, we only saw new major versions from Chrome and Opera. Since Opera was the reigning champ, we weren't going to do the next WBGP to coincide with its next major release. The Chrome release schedule became too rapid to synchronize with this series. Chrome is also somewhat of a rolling release at this point, and whole number version changes don't bear the weight they used to. For a long time, it looked like the release of Firefox 4 was going to be right for WBGP3. After several failures to launch on time, it became apparent that Internet Explorer or Safari could see a major release before Firefox. When Microsoft announced that IE9 would launch on March 14th, we went full steam ahead on doing WBGP3 with IE9. It's that simple. If IE9 came out last month, WBGP3 would have been published last month. If Firefox 4 had launched in 2010, we'd be on WBGP4 right now. A major release from Safari could have changed it all around, too.

Regarding the file posted in the comment section earlier, per Mike Beltzner, director of Firefox:

As part of Mozilla's open source process we post our builds publicly for testing and verification. These builds are not leaked, but part of our open development process. While we appreciate everyone's excitement about the Firefox 4 release, these builds are currently not final, and are still going through QA testing. Firefox 4 is expected to launch tomorrow morning as the QA process is complete and the first run experience and interactive launch events are ready. In the meantime, we would prefer that people download and test the Firefox 4 release candidate from: www.mozilla.com/firefox/rc

It's not the final code. The QA process is not complete. Many of you commenting on the absence of Firefox 4 seem to be under the assumption that it would have won had this build been included. We managed to grab the file before the site redirected to Firefox 3.6.15 and tested it completely. If this is the final code, Firefox fanatics are going to be disappointed. But it's not the final code, so we'll have to wait and see how Firefox 4 really compares to IE9 when it is released.

Once official, we will be testing the final build of Firefox 4 in the next Web Browser Grand Prix article. Since Mozilla has now confirmed March 22nd as the release date, testing for Web Browser Grand Prix 4: Firefox 4 Goes Final will begin tomorrow and the article will be published shortly thereafter.