A Look at Internet Explorer 9 Beta

The Internet Explorer 9 Beta has finally been released to the public yesterday (9/15/10) and judging by many, the reactions have mainly all been positive. Internet Explorer has mainly been touted as the most used browser in the world but I can’t help but wonder how much of a lead it still has on the ever growing Mozilla Firefox browser. Don’t quote me on this but I believe the percentage lead for Internet Explorer over other browsers, mainly Firefox, have dwindled each year. In my opinion, Internet Explorer can still maintain a lead over the competition is due to corporations and giant companies not supporting other third party browsers such as Firefox and Chrome. Many in-house applications are developed to work only on the Internet Explorer platform and so it makes sense for companies to continue using the browser. But outside of corporations, Firefox is the browser of choice for many, many users. Can Internet Explorer 9 lure back consumers with their new and sleek interface along with impressive browsing speeds?

This is not an in-depth review of the Internet Explorer 9 Beta. I’m only reporting on things I have seen and used along with adding my insights on what I have read from other more in-depth talks of this software from other online articles. Feel free to correct me.
You can download the Internet Explorer 9 Beta from here.

– The Internet Explorer 9 Beta is not avaialble for Windows XP. It is only supported on Windows Vista SP2 and Windows 7. This will most likely not change as well once the final version is released.

– Please remember that this is a beta version! Therefore, there are still bugs and fixes that needs to be ironed out. One of your main job as a beta tester is to give feedback back to the Microsoft team. You do not want to deploy or use this beta on your production machines.

– To uninstall the beta, head over to Programs and Features in Control Panel. Click the View Installed Updates link, find the Windows Internet Explorer 9 update and uninstall it by right-clicking on it and selecting Uninstall.

Uninstall

The Looks

One of the biggest design overhaul is the look of Internet Explorer 9. Microsoft finally understands that it’s all about the web and not the browser. Therefore, it pretty much stripped away all but the most used elements of the browser to give the users a sleek and clean look. This is important because as Google’s Chrome browser demonstrated, it’s important to give users as much viewing room as possible but yet still being able to make core functions available without much hassle. I’m glad Internet Explorer 9 (here henceforth known as IE9) follows this trend as well.

Here you can compare the header of IE9 vs. IE8. Notice the minimal interface of the former:

Top

IE8 Top

– You’ll immediately spot out a couple of differences. First is the large “Back” and slightly smaller “Forward” page buttons.

– Gone is the website title/header section. Many websites incorporate a welcome message or a slogan of some sort in this area. Here, you’ll also notice the removal of any icons or branding that indicates you are using Internet Explorer.

– Next, you’ll notice that the search bar is gone because you can now type in your search terms right inside the URL box. Microsoft calls this the OneBox. The default search engine, obviously, is Bing since this is a Microsoft product. This can be easily changed to whatever search provider you use with a couple of clicks. You can add more search providers by installing an add-on of your choice as provided here. You can configure your search providers by using the Manage Add-on’s window from the Tool’s drop down menu.

Manage Addon

– The Favorite’s Bar is now disabled by default. The Favorite’s Bar was a useful location to place your most used bookmarks along with accessing your favorite RSS feeds by utilizing a feature called Live Bookmarks.

– A big change is the placement of tabs within IE9. Rather than putting tabs on top of the browser (Chrome) or beneath the URL address bar (Firefox), IE9 chose to place your tabs to the right of the URL bar. This placement gives you the most viewing area for your web pages as it doesn’t take up another row of screen estate. Here you can see the comparision of tab placements between all three browsers:

IE9 Tab

Firefox Tab

Chrome Tab

– Missing in action also is the command bar. This bar consists of a bunch of icons (such as the print and RSS). Here in IE9, this bar is removed and in place of it is just three simple unobtrusive icons instead. This includes the Home button, your Favorites button, and the Tools button which consists of the majority of options you can set.

– Another major missing component is the status bar. This is the bar that’s usually located at the bottom of your browser. Once again, by removing this element, IE9 tries to provide you with the most screen estate to view your websites, the part that matters the most to you.

If at anytime you want to bring back the Favorites, Status, and/or Command Bar , simply right-click on the Favorites icon (the star) and click on the appropriate option to bring these elements back into play.

The Speed

Let me get this out of the way: Internet Explorer 9 is fast. Why? Because it utilizes our hardware (mainly our graphics hardware) to render web pages. This is a huge improvement to making the browser faster than performing what some would call as “software tweaks” instead. This makes a lot of sense because computer now a days are relatively fast, even if you aren’t spending thousands and thousands of dollars for it. By utilizing the hardware, we are getting more bang for our bucks because let’s face it, not everyone here plays video games (which is one of the main utilizations of graphical hardware). So, by letting IE9 utilize the power of our graphical hardware, I’m sure you’ll already realize the benefits without anyone having to explain it. Future version of Chrome and Firefox will also take advantage of hardware utilization for rendering web pages.

Don’t believe what I’m saying? Well, you can take Internet Explorer 9 for a “Test Drive” and see how well it does. You are able to perform a series of test which will show you exactly what a hardware accelerated browser can do for you. Head over to the Test Drive wesite and under the Performance category, you’ll be able to perform a series of tests that aims to utilize your graphical hardware for testing and demonstration purposes. It’s a pretty cool test and I highly advise all people to try it out unless you are a uber gamer and know exactly what your video hardware is capable of. Here are a couple of tests that I performed in IE9 and Firefox to showcase the differences:

IE9 FishFirefox Fish

IE9 Flying
Firefox Flying

I’m sure I don’t have to explain the results for you to know just what the heck happened. My Firefox got torn to shreds when performing the IE9 performance tests. I actually had to omit some tests because it was moving so slow in Firefox. This no doubt proves that hardware-accelerated browsers kick major butt when it comes to rendering web pages.

IE9 is also HTML5 ready. HTML5 is the next generation of the HTML language and with it, browsers will no longer have to rely on third party plugin’s to render video and drag and drop features. Once again, you can test out some new HTML5 elements by heading over to the IE9 Test Drive site.

Misc. Features

Website As Apps

One of the most talked about feture of IE9 for some strange reason is the ability to create your own website apps. Basically, you get to pin a website to your taskbar (Windows 7 only) by simply dragging the website’s favicon to your taskbar. That icon on your taskbar will take on the appearance of the site’s favicon rather than a boring Internet Explorer icon. But that’s just the beginning. Sites you pin open up in their own browser window and as a separate process. If you have used Chrome’s Application Shortcuts or Firefox’s Prism plugin, you should be right at home, although there are obviously some differences. Pinned sites allows for more interaction and you can view these new features via the Test Drive website under the Browser Demo category. A pinned website also allows for the website developer to create their own links in the Jumplist. For example, rather than having to navigate the site to get to specific sections, the website creator could create a link pointing to that location in the Jumplist so the user can instantly go to it using the pinned app icon on their taskbar. One cool, although not really useful, feature is the color of the Back and Forward buttons when you open a pinned website. The color of these buttons will change to the dominate color of the favicon as seen below for the CNN website:

Colored Buttons

The topic of website apps is definitely a big one. As with Firefox Prism, many users will view this as completely useless and a waste of time. Ed Bott has dedicated an entire blog article specific to this feature alone.

Download Section
The Downloads area of IE9 also received a makeover. Whenever you download a file within IE9, the Download window does not automatically pop out to invade your screen space. Rather, you get a notification as the bottom of the browser:

Download Notification

Here is the revamped Download manager:

Download Manager

Once your download completes, you’ll get another notification, although you could turn it off if you so wish.

Tabs
Whenever you create a new tab, you’ll be presented with a view of your most popular sites. This allows you to quickly view which sites have been visited the most and if need be, you can quickly navigate back to it with a single click. However, you cannot interact with this view. You cannot pin your own “popular sites” to it. Whatever sites gets pinned there is determined completely by IE9. If you chose to remove a site from this list, the next most popular site will replace it.

Popular Sites

You can also tear away a tab you have currently open and either dock it to the left/right side of your screen or have it in its own window. You can easily just as well drag that tab and merge it back with all the other opened tabs in your main browser session. Here, you can see that I have ripped the CNN website from the main tab location and I can now interact with it:

Rip Tab

IE9 Pro’s and Con’s

Very Fast. There’s no mistake about it. IE9 is definitely a very fast browser. Start up is fast and snappy as well as browsing the many different websites I visit on a daily basis. Obviously your experiences may vary depending on your connection but for the most part, it’s safe to say that this is the fastest Internet Explorer ever. Internet Explorer has mainly been behind when it came to the speed category but with IE9, Microsoft has put itself right back in the competition. However, do realize that once other competing browsers incorporate hardware acceleration as well, the playing field will most likely once again become even or at least to the point that the differences will be minimal. Even now, many users will not likely notice the speed difference between the different browsers which therefore makes this category obsolete.

Website Apps. Website apps can be a sensitive topic for many. However, users have to realize that as more and more services are available to us on the Internet, the more uses we will have for dedicated apps. I don’t personally use website apps in IE9 but I do applaud Microsoft for taking a step in this direction. If website creators follow through and actually create unique Jumplinks (another neat but rarely used feature in Windows) for their custom website app in IE9, there could be a chance that more people will jump on the website app bandwagon.

Sleek Look. Many Chrome users will instantly tell you that one of the most beloved features is the minimal look of the browser. As the Internet moves forward, Microsoft have to realize that you must give control back to the user. Cluttering your brower’s interface is a sure way to scare away users. Rather, give us, the users, the option to customize the browser to our liking. By default, IE9 is stripped down to a bare minimum and many users will believe that this is a strong step forward. Getting rid of that Internet Explorer icon is also a brave move but one that should also garner applause.

Lack of Add-On’s. As always, one of the main drawback of Internet Explorer is the lack of add-on’s. I really don’t understand what’s so difficult here. One of the main attraction of Firefox is the huge assortment of add-on’s to create a truly unique browser that works well for the user. I would never have believed it in the past if someone told me that one add-on could move thousands and thousands of users away from Internet Explorer and onto another platform. Well, that has happen and that add-on is called AdBlock Plus. Using IE9 basically reminds me of how the web really looks like and let me tell you, it’s ugly. Flashy advertisements are plastered everywhere. With Firefox + ABP, it completely changes the game. Right now, I still find it hard to believe that no similar alternative add-on has been created for IE. If there is one, it’s installed on the computer as a completely separate program and service and that’s not what users want. I have tried using Hostman + the MVPS Host File but it’s not a viable solution. In my opinion, no matter how fancy Microsoft makes IE9 or any other future versions of IE, they will hardly be able to persuade users to come back if they do not do something about their add-on game. Would you buy a smart phone today if there were little apps for it?

Inconsistent Favorites Search. In Firefox, whenever you type in a term in the address bar, it will return a list of bookmarks you have as long as the term you was searching for is included somewhere in the bookmark. The term could either be in the bookmark name itself or in the actual URL. In IE9, I find the search behavior very weird and disappointing because it doesn’t work like that. In fact, I’m not even sure how it works as many times it doesn’t want to return any bookmark results even though clearly my search term is included in the bookmark! For example, I have a bookmark called “Teriyaki Marinated Chicken Recipe – Allrecipes.com”. The actual URL is “http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Teriyaki-Marinated-Chicken/Detail.aspx”. In IE9, if I search for the term “teriyaki”, the bookmark would show in the list. However, if I use the terms “Chicken” or “Recipe”, nothing would show up! This irritates me to no end because I’m sure you would understand my frustration as well if you have a big bookmark library yourself. In Firefox, typing in the word “recipe” alone would automatically return all 7 bookmarks in my library that I have bookmarked for that particular site. In IE9, not one site would show up using the same term.

Crippled Website Apps. Even if you love the idea of creating applets for your favorite websites, there is one very big disadvantage for doing so and that is those pinned websites do not operate with your current add-on’s. Yups, you read right. For example, if downloaded a add-on that helped with spell checking, you can’t use that same add-on when you open Facebook, which you have pinned to your taskbar. This is a pretty big deal-breaker and I’m hoping they will fix this sometime in the future. However, as pointed out in Ed Bott’s IE9 Beta Review, Microsoft said that this behavior is by design. Not good at all. Add-on is support is already so weak overall and by omitting the use of them in pinned websites, users will view the feature as even more over rated and useless.

Missing Download Speed. Is it just me or am I not seeing the actual download speed for my downloads?! In the download manager, I don’t get any indication of my current download speed for a given download. All I see is the percent downloaded so far and the estimated time until download completion. The only way I’m able to view the download speed is if I hover my mouse over the area. It’s ridiculous! Download speed is very important to me and I have no clue as to why they would omit that piece of information!

Download Speed

In the End…

Judging by the IE9 Beta, Microsoft did a decent job of following other competitors by making a browser that’s for the people. But I just can’t help but get the feeling that even though IE9 (assuming not much major changes are going to be made between the Beta to the final release) is snappy and sports a new minimal look, it’s just a little too late. One of the biggest disadvantage in the users eyes are the add-on’s and while some may argue that it’s a silly complaint, it can’t be helped. When users use Firefox, they are spoiled by the hundreds and thousands of different add-on’s to customize the browser just to their liking. To be completely honest, the lack of an advertisement blocker add-on is the sole reason why I am not adopting IE9 as my default browser. With that being said though, I am willing to use it for a month or so just to see if I can get use to seeing all the advertisements. I’m guessing the final release of IE9 won’t be that much different from the Beta version and so I’m not really hoping for anything too crazy at this point to change my viewpoint.
I’m not really bias towards Internet Explorer, it’s just that there honestly isn’t a good reason for me to switch back. All Microsoft doing is following the pack. Sure, it can tout it as the fastest browser on earth but when you have competitor browsers just milliseconds away, there really isn’t anything to brag about. Sure, you can tout yourself as the safest browser in the competition but smart users will know that all browsers, not just IE, have vulnerabilities no matter how secure you make it to be. All browsers are *safe* to a certain degree. Sure, you can tout yourself as being the first of browsers to be fully HTML5 compliant and take advantage of hardware-acceleration but what happens when other browsers do the same? What about the website app creation feature? What happens when other browsers incorporate the same feature as well but with add-on support? By then, Internet Explorer will be left right back at the start line.

(**sigh**…I wrote this entire article in IE9 Beta but somehow, it’s not letting me publish the article in Blogger. I have to log back in to Firefox just to publish this post. So ironic.)

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Comments

  1. “IE 9 will overwrite your IE 8 install so you can’t have both at the same time. However, the upgrade should not delete your bookmarks or addons. To be extra cautious, make a note of all your installed third-party extensions/addons and do a export of your bookmarks. ” < YUCK. Too much messing around. I understand the "improvements", but I like to have the old right there next to the new…not replaced by it. I don't like it when anything disappears on the web. Most people feel this way. The "test drives" have us test all kinds of gadgety gookie things that I'd never use. Like most people I just email, read the news and browse the web. — No time to mess with all those other distractions listed below the "download now" button on the "test drive" page. Sounds like you are eager to "sell" this new browser…have me try it. I'll wait 'til they perfect it. (wink)

    • Trust me, I am far from trying to sell you IE 9! I don’t work for Microsoft nor do I get a commission. In fact, I myself don’t even use IE. Since you were interested in IE 9 in the first place, I thought it would be cool to let you know that you can easily uninstall it if you decide it’s not for you. The only way you’ll know if something is right for you or not is to try it out yourself. Upgrading to IE 9 doesn’t just affect the appearance of the browser. There are many, many more things working under the hood. One of that thing is security. IE 9 is more secure than IE 8 just like how IE 8 is more secure than IE 7 before it. If you’re looking for a perfect browser, I’m sorry to inform you but truth of the matter is that there is no perfect browser. That is why Microsoft needs to release updates and whatnot. The look and feel of IE 9 will never change since it has already been released to public. IE 10 I’m sure will continue on with the minimalistic approach I mentioned earlier.

  2. Thanks for writing this article. I’m still too scared to make the change. You have 3 pictures of web browsers in the middle and I don’t know which one or two or three of them is/are the new one… and I don’t see the “This includes the ….your Favorites button, and the Tools button” at all. I’m too scared to try it. I hear there are problems…

    • Sorry, I fail to mention it in the post but the order for the pictures are IE 9, Firefox and Chrome. One thing I don’t like with new versions of Internet Explorer is that Microsoft can often change a lot of things just for the sake of change. Sometimes, I don’t like them at all and you as the user have to dig around online to find out how to make things work the way it had prior to upgrading. IE 9 has officially been released to the public, if you didn’t know already.

      What I suggest you do is install IE 9 and play around with it. If you don’t like it or doesn’t work to your satisfaction, simply uninstall it! You’ve got nothing to lose. http://bit.ly/eQFCex

      As for the buttons, it’s all there but it’s just placed differently than what you were used to before. You can simply press the “Alt” key and the familiar menu bar should appear at the top. Anyways, install it and play around with it. As with many new things, give it a chance at first. If you really don’t like it, then uninstall it although in the near future, Microsoft will push IE 9 as a upgrade via Windows Update.

      • I guess to me it just looks like everything is missing. Huh. I guess I’ll give it a try. Can I download it and save it to my desktop and KEEP IE8 on my desktop too while I try it out or does it replace IE8 altogether? —- Thanks for answering and again, thanks for writing this article!

        • Your welcome! Everything looks missing because almost every browser these days are going for the “minimalistic” feel. They try to help you save every pixel possible to view the web content itself. In doing so, they have to either cram buttons together or hide them. The result is a cleaner looking browser, though whether you’ll like it or not is a different story!

          Installing IE 9 will overwrite your IE 8 install so you can’t have both at the same time. However, the upgrade should not delete your bookmarks or addons. To be extra cautious, make a note of all your installed third-party extensions/addons and do a export of your bookmarks. Once you uninstall IE 9, your system will revert back to IE 8.

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