Internet Explorer 9, the HTML 5 browser: Better than half-way there

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[Today's delay in Betanews bringing you Internet Explorer 9 news was brought to you as a public service by the Cable Modem: Your Best Friend When It's Crunch Time. Remember, where there's smoke, there's a Comcast cable modem. Smell one today.]

It is perhaps the unlikeliest scenario any technologist could imagine as recently as two years ago: Microsoft evangelizing developers to embrace Web standards by helping it to build its Web browser. Although one of the first browsers to be distributed for free, Internet Explorer has never been open source. Historically, it's always been ready when it's ready; its value proposition has been to the consumer who prefers convenience over adaptability; and when the fact that it was dirt slow was pointed out, the response typically was, the consumer isn't going to care.


Today, the value proposition started to take shape for IE9, the browser that in an earlier era didn't need a value proposition. Microsoft's strategy, which premiered today at MIX 10, was to seize control of tomorrow's key talking point, HTML 5 compliance and compatibility -- to make HTML 5 identifiable with Internet Explorer. In fact, IE General Manager Dean Hachamovitch's greeting sentence to MIX 10 attendees this morning wasn't without the term "HTML 5."

Microsoft Internet Explorer 9 General Manager Dean Hachamovitch speaks to MIX 10 on March 16.

"When we started looking deeply at HTML 5, we saw that it enabled a whole new class of applications," was Hachamovitch's second sentence. "These applications will stress the browser runtime and hardware, as today's sites just don't. We quickly realized that doing HTML 5 right -- our intent -- was more about designing around what HTML 5 applications will need, rather than a particular set of features. Done right, HTML 5 applications will feel more like real apps than Web pages, and our approach to HTML 5 is to make standard Web patterns that developers already know and use, just run faster and better by taking advantage of PC hardware through Windows."

Developers have always known that Microsoft has always had the capability to leverage its mastery of Windows APIs to build smoother applications. But as other Microsoft applications have weaned themselves off of the old Win32 dependencies, such as rendering using the old GDI and GDI+ libraries, Internet Explorer has fallen further and further behind. In fact, you could make the case that Silverlight gives Web developers opportunities to use the modern rendering libraries that IE should be using now natively.

Soliciting general developers' help in improving IE (some will say for the first time), Microsoft today began distributing the bare-bones chassis of the IE9 Web browser -- no frills, no features, not even bookmarks. Just a rendering engine in a window. With Google Chrome, Apple Safari, and now even Opera having made effective cases for the Web being "the platform," Microsoft desperately needs to resume defining the platform before someone else ends up defining it instead.

But one element of Microsoft's IE message remains the same even today: Those areas where the competitors say they have the advantage, may not be all that important to end users. Case in point: just-in-time compilation, the factor that has catapulted Mozilla Firefox and WebKit-based browsers such as Safari and Chrome into today's speed race.

Microsoft's chart of relative SunSpider test performance claims dramatic improvement, including better performance than Firefox.

For example, Hachamovitch did cite the IE9 chassis' speed improvement on the widely accepted SunSpider performance test, created by the originators of the open source WebKit engine. On Microsoft's chart, Opera is the fastest performer on the SunSpider, followed by a Chrome 5 dev build, a Chrome 4 stable build, and the latest Safari 4.0.5, released late last week by Apple (apologies for the fuzzy screenshot of Microsoft's chart). So yes, IE9 comes in fifth, rather than dead last. But the difference isn't that much of a difference, he said:

"It's interesting to note that the gap between IE9 and some of the other browsers to its right is about an eye-blink -- it's about 300 ms. And it took 70 seconds to identify that 300 ms difference."

When it comes to HTML 5, Microsoft wants to be perceived now as leading that standard. But with respect to standards at large, the company's position remains unchanged from last year: As long as Web standards are up in the air, compliance is a foggy term anyway. Today, Hachamovitch implied that if the goal of standards bodies were the same as Microsoft's goal of one language, the fog would be lifted:

"Developers want to use the same HTML, the same script, and the same markup across browsers. That's the goal of standards and interoperability. No need for different code paths for different browsers. That's a key goal for HTML 5. We love HTML 5 so much, we want it to actually work. In IE9, it will. We want the same HTML, the same script, the same markup to just work across browsers. So in IE9, we'll do for the rest of the Web platform what we did for CSS 2.1 in IE8. Now, at the same time, we want to be responsible about the standards that are still emerging, the standards that are in committee, and the standards that are partially implemented, often in different ways across browsers. So to make decisions on this front, we started from data."

As an Acid3 test runs in the background (it's not done yet), Dean Hachamovitch demonstrates how 'standards' support varies between even Firefox and Chrome (lower right) for the same markup.  From MIX 10.

As an Acid3 test runs in the background (it's not done yet), Dean Hachamovitch demonstrates how 'standards' support varies between even Firefox and Chrome (lower right) for the same markup.

The IE9 team leader went on to describe an internal tool that measured the script activity on 7,000 active Web sites. The telemetry that it received showed, for instance, that the #1 method in use was indexOf(), on 94% of sites measured. Number 17 on the list, used by 65% of sites, was addEventListener, a method that's key to W3C's advanced event registration model, but not yet supported in IE8.

"Because we started from data, what developers like you really use was our starting point for what to support." As a result, the IE9 chassis passed 578 out of 578 in the selectors test, putting it now on a par with Firefox. That's important, Hachamovitch noted, because developers want that one language -- one CSS, one HTML -- to work with for all browsers across the board.

A MIX 10 test of graphics object rendering shows more things tend to move more fluidly in IE9 than Google Chrome.Meanwhile, the IE9 preview posts a 55% score on the Acid3 standards compliance test -- up from 20% for IE8, and 12% for IE7. The latest stable Firefox, by comparison, scores 94% on this test; and Safari, Chrome, and Opera all score 100%. Could the test be fair, and the Acid3 test unfair?

"Some people use Acid3 as shorthand for standards support. Acid3 is kind of interesting, it exercises about a hundred details of a dozen different technologies. Some of them are under construction, others less so," Hachamovitch said. He added a promise that Acid3 scores will continue to improve "as we make more of the markup that developers actually use, work."

Next: Offloading processing to the background and to the GPU...

24 Responses to Internet Explorer 9, the HTML 5 browser: Better than half-way there

  1. internetworld7 says:

    Microsoft's efforts come too little, too late. Here it is 2010 and Microsoft finally wants to embrace web standards and improve IE's speed? Microsoft should not be praised for this. They are only doing this because of all the competition they are getting by other browsers and a steady decline in market share year after year.

    And don't get me started on HTML5! LOL. We all know Steve Jobs has been pushing real hard for replacing Flash with HTML5. Now "all of a sudden" Microsoft has a magical eye for "innovation"? Again Microsoft is letting everyone else lead the way while they present their "Me Too" completely after the fact responses.

    • PC_Tool says:

      Competition is only good so long as it's anyone but Microsoft responding to it, eh iTard?

      Firefox hit the playing field *long* after both Microsoft *and* Apple were kicking it around.

      Here it was 2002 and Mozilla finally wanted to embrace the web... Too little too late? One could easily argue that Apple didn't start pushing in this game until after FF hit too. Too little, too late?

      Here's a newsflash: Competition *drives* innovation. Without it, there is no push, no drive. So *of course* the field didn't advance until some coompetition showed up. (This is common sense and self-evident to most folks...)

      • internetworld7 says:

        As usual your [b]wrong[/b] PC_Troll. Microsoft's "Me too" approach isn't good for anyone, not even Microsoft. My point was that Microsoft does not innovate but imitates the competition. It's ok to be [b]wrong[/b] PC_Troll. Oh and did I mention that you're [b]WRONG?[/b]

      • PC_Tool says:

        Your world must be a very interesting place, iTard... things like competition have entirely different meanings to you than the rest of the world.

        Up is down, black is white, and wrong is right, eh? ;)

      • DotNet_Coder says:

        Eh, iw7 is just pissed off that Apple hasn't announced a new version of Safari lately.

    • GrailKnight says:

      There is never to little to late when computers and software are involved.

    • frankwick says:

      Me too? Like an ipad?

  2. smist08 says:

    Certainly they are talking the talk. If they can pull it off and walk the walk then its very exciting. Nice to see an MS group promoting web standards and web based applications. Certainly a contrast to all the Silverlight nonsense that went with the WinMo 7 announcements. Way to go MS IE team!

  3. TF123 says:

    I would just be happy if Microsoft could cut in half the huge difference it takes Chrome to display a large Sharepoint view (1000+ records, 20 fields, 1 grouping, 2 sorts -- a fraction of a second to two seconds) versus the time it takes IE to display the same view (25 seconds to more than a minute). How the hell can that even happen? Seriously?

    (On a tangential but related note, maybe some day I'll use Bing when Sharepoint's search service can use the wild card or not choke on partial strings.)

    All the talk is the same damn talk -- "All that matters is we scored a hundred percent on selectors and Acid is meaningless because we still can't hire a single engineer who understands the html box model... blah, blah, blah..."

  4. Floodland says:

    "Today, he described how IE9 moves the JavaScript interpreter to a background process..."

    Well, I just want to believe they do NOT intend to make an activex-like service this time or anything running at system level, it may be faster, but a nightmare in terms of security, again... We are still paying the price for that activex garbage today...

    • AnthonySPT says:

      They mean they are compiling and threading the JavaScript in the background, so multi-core and HT enabled systems will get an additional performance jump.

      It has nothing to do with add-ins, plug-ins, etc...

      • Floodland says:

        AnthonySPT, I am talking about a nasty habit MS had, which is running code in the deep rings (kernel mode) of the OS just to make it faster.
        Example: Video drivers in windows XP (I am not sure how Vista/7 manage them). Any bug/exploit in such software end in a system wide access or BSOD. JS with the OS wide open would be really dangerous, faster but a nightmare, activex took that way, and that is why I do worry...
        In the other end, MS attempts to sandbox applications (.NET) worked pretty slooooow and unreliable. I hope to see something better this time... We are running multi core processors with multigigabyte RAM, Terabytes of fast hard disks but keep waiting for MS to wake up... Still, Windows 7 was a step forward, lets see what IE9 do offer...

  5. teohhanhui says:

    "Today's delay in Betanews bringing you Internet Explorer 9 news was brought to you as a public service by the Cable Modem: Your Best Friend When It's Crunch Time. Remember, where there's smoke, there's a Comcast cable modem. Smell one today."

    What was that? Ranting? If so, it's a nice one.

  6. Bonobi says:

    I hope they get it right this time. It's crazy how some things got ignored in both 7 & 8. The Flash speed issues are really important. And I hope gifs aren't ignored either again for this second time and tab speeds.

    The Offloading processes to the GPU gives a lot of hope, too. Can't wait to witness all of this in an everyday user environment.

  7. unicomp21 says:

    What about WebGL?

  8. jfplopes says:

    PC_Tool is absolutely right. Competition is what drives products forward.
    And from a consumer point of view companies are NOT important at all.
    What is important to consumers is what they get in return for using a given product. So the game is never ever over.
    The iPhone stole the market when it came out, but for many of us we can already see that Apple is about to loose its edge very soon if it doesn't evolve.
    Why? Because as much as I know that the iPhone really pushed things forward it looks pale in comparison to what Google and Microsoft have in store with the Android and Windows Phone 7 platform. Stuff like lack of Flash support and "prohibiting" certain applications when the competition is about to offer more capabilities than what you currently provide can and will kill your product.
    Just ask Microsoft and their now free falling Windows Mobile platform.
    But this is only natural.
    So I wouldn't be surprised if a product like Internet Explorer 9 could end up being better than Firefox, Chrome and so on.

    Anyway. I can pretty much predict another thing. IE9 can and will overtake any browser in the market if it achieves three things
    1 - A good add-on support like Firefox and Google have (this is the easy part really)
    2- Standards support so sites don't look "weird" (people just HATE this)
    3 - Faster web rendering but above all great performance on websites (the gpu and multi-core support is a good call)
    4 - Integration with cloud services

    IF it can surpass the competition on this three core points it WILL retake the browser market

    But there is also a 5th pillar that is really what Microsoft should address above all if it wants consumers to stay with them
    Their products need to work acrros platform, across devices, across software.
    What I mean is. The old strategy of making products that ONLY work on this or that platform doesn't work anymore. That's Google's advantage right there. If Microsoft can't understand that their cloud based services need to work everywhere they loose.
    Want one example?
    I can't install Silverlight or Flash on my corporate computer. What does this mean?
    If Microsoft had a Youtube like website that only used Silverlight I woudln't be able to use it. But guess what. I would still be visiting Youtube because they already are implementing HTML5 support. Same goes to any web version of an office application. Make it work EVERYWHERE.

  9. Calc_Yolatuh says:

    Huh. Nearly everything from the testdrive ( runs quite slick on my N280-powered netbook. In Opera 10.51 RC1. In Power Saver. WIth a background load of 120+ tabs in Opera 10.10, and a Win98 computer in Virtual PC '07.

    I take this mostly as a direct attack from Microsoft against Chrome and Firefox.

    • AnthonySPT says:

      I wouldn't call it an attack, it is more like, we all need to do better if HTML5 is going to be important.

      You can't have web developers depending on highly interactive multi-standard content like SVG and Video and dynamic content and animation based on HTML5 technologies if the browser chokes when trying to render it.

      Opera should be given a thumbs up, as they see the future and are equipped for it. Mozilla is approaching it poorly as they are only seeing upper level acceleartion concepts as an answer that will be bad in cross platform consistency and Webkit acts like there is not a clue about dynamic content performance beyond the basic script and initial render that it does well with.

  10. Slipped it in says:

    Finally! Microsoft is at long last developing a web browser that will completely eliminate the need for those other crappy web browsers like Opera, Chrome and Safari. If the EU wouldn't have required that stupid browser ballot screen then people could just use the IE browser that comes with Windows. Nobody should have to use a non IE web browser just to be able to display web pages properly.

  11. IT advisor says:

    Why does Microsoft still develop a browser at all? What's in it for them?

    Why doesn't Microsoft just get the free WebKit, like Safari and Chrome, and put its own interface on top? Much cheaper than IE. Better result than IE.

    • AnthonySPT says:

      Have you even followed IE9 or watched the videos?

      First, let me say, Webkit sucks, Bing/Google the developer forums, there are reasons why Microsoft would not pick up Webkit unless they HAD to make a quick browser with limited resources like Google and Apple where Webkit sort of came from after they bastardized KHTML.

      Secondly, IE9 is about the next generation of a browser that introduces a new composition engine that is inherently accelerated at all levels, not just the final render. This is why all content gets equal access in render speed and is also why higher layer 'standards' in other browsers are all easily accessible at the DOM level in IE9. (This is important if you understand it fully, go to Channel9 and listen to the developers.)

      Thirdly, standards and interoperability is something MS is tackling on a level not addressed by Webkit or anyone else at this point. (Go lookup the Falling Balls example of SVG and HTML5 integration.)

      Sure IE has dragged its heels to conform to the corporate clients for a lot of years, but when it comes to delivering what customers want/need it is important for Microsoft to be looking at the web through the Browser developer's eyes in addtion to providing the backend web technologies.

      Microsoft is about creating platforms and for once they are actually pushing the envelope that challenges Webkit and Mozilla to get a far more consistent end user experience based on standards and trying to get everyone to fill in the gap between the standards. (Again watch the Video.)

      Would it be easier if they just picked up some OSS code and slapped their logo on it with a bit of optimization, sure, but what's the point if they think they can push the browser industry to the next generation and get better results for all users that even will affect Chrome and Mozilla to better implement the final outcome of standards. (Again watch the videos, their intent is clear.)

      People forget that even Opera, Webkit, Mozilla and every other browser out there FAIL to properly implement many of the standards because IE has always been far worse; however, it does matter that they are failing to bring a consistent experience 80% of the time on their own with even the BEST STANDARDS browser you can find.

  12. Ryusennin says:

    Why should I care for IE9 when other, superior WebKit-based browsers are available for XP?

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