Thursday, March 17, 2011

Internet Explorer 9 is out!

It’s been an exciting month for a techie. The iPad 2 was recently released and looks awesome. Firefox 4 is scheduled to be released next Tuesday. And Internet Explorer 9 has just been released last Monday night! I’d like to take a moment to talk first about my impressions on the new browser and then discuss how Microsoft’s latest built-from-scratch browser will change websurfing from the perspective of websurfers. My next post will discuss the impact of IE 9 to web content publishers.

The first thing I noticed about IE9 was how fast it is. Compared to IE8, it is a speed demon. But what about compared to, ahem, good browsers?

If you’re like me you may want to sit down first… because according to the SunSpider Javascript Benchmark it is also the fastest! One thing I should note is that the amazing performance I’m talking about is ONLY available in the x86 build of IE9---the x64 build uses the older javascript engine and thus performs horribly. But honestly I can’t imagine why you’d want to run x64 anyway, since IE uses process isolation for each and every tab so you’d have to have a single webpage run up a memory tab of several GB before it would be a problem!

So IE is fast, but what about security? Well like IE8, it has a feature called Protected Mode that makes the browser much harder to exploit by malicious websites. And unlike IE 8, because it doesn’t run on Windows XP, every computer it’s installed on can use this. Chrome also ties into the same underlying security feature, but Firefox, Safari, and Opera still do not. So although IE may be one of the most heavily targeted attack vectors, I believe it adequately counters these threats making it on par with Chrome as the safest browser.

Security and speed are important, but at the end of the day we all just want to read Slashdot or CNN in peace, right? Well IE 9 also shines on this point as well. Like Chrome 10 and Firefox 4 RC, it has a very minimalistic UI. And like Chrome, it has killed off separate search and URL bars and combined them, something I love. However, unlike Chrome, you can actually turn status bars and file menus back on, making it more customizable. Generally, the main attraction of the web---the webpage---shines in the new layout.

So how does this shake up the web browser race? I am an avid Firefox user, mainly due to the large plugin ecosystem, but sadly I do not think even the unreleased Firefox 4 will include the sandboxing security features of IE 9 or Chrome 10. For years I’ve been recommending Firefox for power users and Chrome for the Mere Mortals, but I find it harder to recommend Firefox in light of its security flaws. IE 9 is significant because for years IE won because it was the default choice; only until it fell far behind the curve did it start to lose share. Now it’s again among the top, so for many users with new Windows computers there will be little reason to go out of their way to install something else since IE 9 is largely sufficient. So don’t be surprised if IE starts making up some share. The question will be, from where will it come? And will Microsoft continue to innovate with IE? Let’s hope so.

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