The Internet browser wars heated up again this week with Microsoft’s introduction of Internet Explorer 9 (IE 9). We have reached the age where much of our computing time is spent on the Internet using a Web browser, so it is only fitting that there be a lot of competition in the area of web browsers.
At one time Internet Explorer was the king, but it lost ground while competitors like Firefox gained in popularity. According to StatCounter, as of August 2010, IE held 51% of the worldwide browser market. Firefox had 31%. Google Chrome had 11% and Apple’s Safari and Opera had close to 4% and 2%, respectively. With Internet Explorer 9, Microsoft will try to stop the defections and make everyone want to use Internet Explorer again.
After a quick look, I can tell you that Microsoft did a very good job of cleaning up Internet Explorer, making it faster, and adding good features.
After installation of the new browser, which is still free, the first thing you notice is that IE 9 has a very clean minimalist design. There is just one bar at the top of the screen that gives you access to all of the browser’s functionality. This leaves a lot more room for the web page itself. Of course you can add toolbars if you like. Microsoft has included one thing here that I really like. At the right side of each toolbar there is an X, which you can use to make the toolbar disappear. With toolbars that seem to propagate like rabbits, many users will find this feature very useful.
The next great feature is that as in Google Chrome, IE 9 has a process separation so each tab runs in its own environment. That means that if the website running in one tab crashes, the rest of the browser remains functional. However, Microsoft has done Chrome one better. In IE 9, you can drag a tab right out of the browser and it becomes a fully functioning browser window on its own, so you can resize it or move it to suit your needs. Because Microsoft has also improved the hardware acceleration, you can even start a YouTube video in a tab and drag it out and not miss a second of the video. You can even drag a webpage to the taskbar at the bottom of the screen and “Pin” it there so you can access it later with a single click.
Microsoft has now added a feature where all of the notifications appear at the bottom of the screen. No more pale yellow notices at the top of the screen where no one noticed them. All of the notifications appear in the same place and they are much more obvious.
Microsoft has also added a much-needed new Download Manager. Older versions of IE made it difficult to download programs, but it is much easier in IE 9. It makes use of the bottom of the screen notification area to let you see how the download is going as well as where it is going. There are also protections built into the downloader that will scan for viruses and alert you before you download an infected file.
IE 9 is faster and it includes support for HTML5, which is an up-and-coming new standard language for the Internet. Like Google Chrome, IE9 uses a single text box for addresses and searches. This makes navigating the web much simpler.
Now for the “What’s not too like!”. First you can’t close a tab unless you are on that tab. Firefox, Chrome, and Opera all allow you to close a tab by clicking on its X, even if you are not currently on that tab. Second, there is a reload button at the right side of the address/search bar. Right next to that is a Stop button. The Stop button has a big X on it. The address bar shows the address of the webpage you are currently viewing. It seems logical that you might click on that X to close the current tab, but you can click all day and nothing will happen. The Stop button will only work when a webpage is downloading and you want to stop it. I don’t think that enough people will use that button to give it such a prominent placement and hope that Microsoft will consider removing it.
There are a few things other things you should know. First you can’t use IE 9 side-by-side with IE8. Installing 9 will replace 8 completely. Second, you can use it only with Windows Vista or Windows 7.
As I use Internet Explorer 9, I’ll give you further feedback, but for now, I can say it is by far the best browser that Microsoft ever released. If you have a Windows XP computer and use Internet Explorer as your web browser, this may even give you another reason to move to Windows 7.