Internet Explorer 9 demos set for March MIX conference

It could possibly be at least as significant a technology upgrade as Windows 7 itself: the replacement of Microsoft's current Web browser -- and with it, its rendering engine for dynamic text -- with entirely new code for Internet Explorer 9. With both Microsoft's forthcoming Office Web Apps and now its Windows Phone 7 Series dependent on dynamic rendering (as ascertained from demos at MWC last Tuesday), as well as JavaScript performance, the judgment of the company's mobile applications performance could depend entirely on the capability of its new Web browser.

After Microsoft's latest refresh of its conference schedule for MIX 10 in Las Vegas in four weeks, a non-committal statement on its conference blog, under the heading, "Internet Explorer 9 at Mix 10" reads, "After all, what would our premier web conference be without a browser update!?" Although the time and date for this "update" have yet to be set, the notice appears beside a picture of Dean Hachamovitch, Microsoft's IE General Manager and one of MIX' most popular speakers each year.

The wording of the notice -- probably intentionally -- left the definition of "update" open, so attendees may speculate as to whether this means an update of the software or a news update on the browser's progress. Microsoft will say no more than this at this time.


However, at PDC 2009 last November, Hachamovitch and Windows Division President Steven Sinofsky both set a kind of roadmap for the browser -- one which leads directly to MIX. Web developers attending the conference will need to see how the new browser functions, especially with respect to its all-new support for Direct2D rendering (a Windows-only feature that has potential to flatten its competition), as well as improved support and functionality with Silverlight (a cross-platform feature).

A demo from a Steven Sinofsky keynote to PDC 2009 in November showed vastly improved text rendering through Direc2D.

A demo from a Steven Sinofsky keynote to PDC 2009 in November showed vastly improved text rendering through Direc2D.

What we saw three months ago were promises that early builds of IE9 were scoring 32% on the Acid3 standards compliance test (up from 20% for IE8), posting speeds in the SunSpider general computational performance test that were comparable to those of daily builds of the then-latest Mozilla Firefox 3.6 betas. An early build of IE9's rendering engine, which Hachamovitch showed us personally, rendered a Virtual Earth map on a netbook computer with astounding ease and fluidity.

A demo from a Steven Sinofsky keynote to PDC 2009 in November promised vastly improved SunSpider test performance.

However, that was using Direc2D rendering, which as a Windows feature, isn't exactly a Web standard. Internet Explorer has gotten into trouble in the past for promoting a Windows-centric, or at least Windows-leaning, axis around which Web pages could revolve, compelling developers to support the platform with the biggest installed base rather than the standard promoted by independent agencies such as W3C. Then when both standards and software performance evolve at speeds faster than Microsoft has been able to keep up with, developers reluctantly continue to seek compliance with rendering to the older model -- in many cases still today, IE6 on Windows XP. Early criticism of Microsoft's strategy with IE9 took the company to task for, as they described it, engineering a repeat of history.

Microsoft's Dean Hachamovitch demonstrates slow GDI and fast Direct2D road map rendering and scrolling using Direct2D.

This time, Hachamovitch and others at Microsoft have told us, will be different: Direc2D rendering is already something that software developers are being taught today, and that they could implement today if they so desired without paying anyone a license fee. So if Microsoft sets a new standard, there's nothing holding back followers who are willing and able.
But that requires Microsoft to set a standard, which makes it imperative that the company make a bold statement when MIX 10 convenes in four weeks' time.

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