Thursday, March 18, 2010

Microsoft modernizes Web ambitions with IE9

For those who doubted that Microsoft was serious in its effort to re-engage with the Web, it's time to put the skepticism aside.

At its Mix conference in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Microsoft gave programmers, Web developers, and the world at large a taste of things to come with its Web browser. Specifically, Microsoft released what it's calling the Internet Explorer 9 Platform Preview, a prototype that's designed to show off the company's effort to improve how the browser deals with the Web as it exists today and, just as important, to add support for new Web technologies that are coming right now.

The new software is only a framework, raw enough that it's still missing a "back" button. But with "a few" updated preview versions set to arrive at eight-week intervals, the project will develop into a beta, a release candidate, and eventually the full-fledged product IE9, said Dean Hachamovitch, general manager of Internet Explorer and the executive who'll describe the project at Mix.

Coming in the new version is support for new Web standards including plug-in-free video; better performance with graphics, text, and JavaSript by taking advantage of modern computing hardware; and a new effort at gathering and responding to feedback from those using the prototype software, Hachamovitch said.

Dean Hachamovitch, IE general manager

IE9 is months from release, but already it holds the potential to alter the browser market. Not only could it reinvigorate competition with a host of new rivals, it could help usher in the cloud computing era that some of those rivals are eager to embrace. In that era, the Web transforms from a foundation for static documents and Web sites into a foundation for interactive programs.

IE6, released in 2001 when Microsoft had won the browser wars of the 1990s, still is widely used today. It's loathed among Web developers who want to use more modern Web technologies, and despite the release of IE8 a year ago, Microsoft is still saddled with a reputation as a company behind the browser curve. Mozilla's Firefox now accounts for nearly a quarter of usage, Google's Chrome has burst onto the scene and now is in third place, while Internet Explorer continues to gradually lose its share of usage.

With IE9, though, Microsoft is trying to rebuild the browser for the Web that's to come through new standards such as HTML5 and CSS3, updates to Hypertext Markup Language for describing Web pages and Cascading Style Sheets for formatting.

The software caught the attention of Microsoft's biggest browser rival. "IE9 looks great, very glad to see it. Congrats to the IE team!" said Mike Shaver, vice president of engineering at Firefox backer Mozilla, in a tweet.

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