Microsoft shipped a new version of its Internet Explorer browser late last night. By delivering Windows Internet Explorer 9 just under two years after the arrival of IE 8 (and only six months after it released a beta version of this browser), Microsoft set something of a record in browser development.
Unfortunately, its competitors have been moving even faster. IE 9--for Windows Vista and 7 only--faces an even tougher competitive environment than IE 8, which had the luxury of debuting when Google’s Chrome owned a tiny percent of the browser market. By last May, the combined market share of all versions of IE had fallen below 60 percent.
IE 9 bears no family resemblance to the sluggish, clumsy IE 7, in other words. By allowing you to see which plug-ins are slowing its launch times, IE 9 can get even faster after you install it.
Nor does it look much like earlier versions. The new release adopts the same stripped-down interface as Chrome, with all of its earlier controls packed into a single strip of toolbar icons and tabs to represent open pages. But as in the beta version, this design barely lets you see the address of the current page--especially since its combined address/search bar also must accommodate search, refresh and stop icons at all times.
A broken-page “Compatibility View” button clutters that field on too many pages. It’s supposed to let IE 9 compensate for pages designed for older versions of IE, but the frequency of its appearance--even on such by-the-book sites as the home page of the World Wide Web Consortium, the Web’s standards-setting organization--suggests IE 9 instead displays that button based on such factors as Microsoft’s stock price, the current temperature and the phase of the moon.
IE 9 includes numerous security upgrades on the inside, but it falls well short of competitors in dealing with plug-in safety. It doesn’t warn you that add-ons such as Oracle’s Java or Adobe’s Flash are out of date (as does Mozilla Firefox, itself due for a major update with the impending arrival of Firefox 4), much less update them for you (something Chrome handles for Flash and its built-in PDF software).
Privacy gets an upgrade in IE 9, but only if you think to navigate to its “Tracking Protection” sub-menu. There, you can choose between four lists of sites, maintained by outside groups, that IE 9 will try to stop from monitoring your use of sites around the Web. It’s more of a useful experiment at the moment.
IE 9 was zero trouble to download and run on a Windows 7 netbook, fully updated with last month’s Service Pack 1 update. But history has taught me that my ability to load a Microsoft update in Windows may not correlate with yours. Have you tried IE 9? How did the installation go? What do you think of the browser so far?