Internet Explorer 9's release: The opening shot in
Internet browser World War III
by Alan Zisman (c) 2010 First
published in Business in Vancouver October 5 - 11, 2010 issue #1093
High Tech Office column
A brief history of the
Browser Wars -
- Browser War I, approximately 1995 – 2001: Microsoft
initially failed to anticipate the explosive popularity of the Web,
letting startup Netscape dominate the early market for Web browsers.
When Netscape suggested the Web could make traditional operating
systems obsolete, Microsoft declared war, bundling its also-ran
browser, Internet Explorer with Windows 98. By the 2001 release of
Windows XP about 90% of users went online with Internet Explorer.
- Browser War II: Having defeated Netscape, Microsoft
went back to sleep, letting development of Internet Explorer stagnate.
In 2004, the release of Mozilla Firefox – an open source rewrite of
Netscape – was the opening shot of Browser War II. Apple removed IE as
the default browser on its Macintosh computers, replacing it with its
home-brewed Safari. Google jumped into the fray, with its minimalist
but speedy Chrome browser. Microsoft responded with IE 7 and 8, but
these versions failed to stem market share losses – at present IE's
overall share has dropped to around 60%, to a large extent a
combination of users in large organizations who are not allowed to
choose their own browser and home users who simply stick with whatever
was pre-installed on their computer. Hardly anyone seems to opt for
Microsoft's browser as an informed choice.
- Browser War III: With Internet Explorer 9 –
pre-released as a public beta in September – the Microsoft empire
strikes back. Available for download from beautyoftheweb.ca, IE 9
offers a trimmed-down, minimalist interface along with much-improved
performance and support for both existing and upcoming Web standards
like HTML 5. (Like IE 8, there's a 'compatibility mode' for sites
developed with older versions of IE in mind).
Similar to Google Chrome, there's a combo box for typing either a web
page address of a search term. While Microsoft's Bing search engine is
used by default – no surprise - it's easy to pick an alternative. Open
a new tab and you'll see thumbnails of previously opened pages – like
in Google Chrome and Apple's Safari. As in Firefox, the back button is
enlarged, since it's most often clicked.
Only in IE 9 - the new download manage warns you if you're downloading
from a known-unsafe website. Very good!
IE 9 makes use of hardware graphics acceleration for improved display
of online video and web apps. Microsoft claims that this feature,
and improved text display are specific to Vista and Windows 7 – and as
a result, XP users won't get the new version. (Google and Mozilla,
however, are offering hardware graphics acceleration for XP users in
their upcoming Chrome and Firefox versions).
There are several features just for Windows 7 users. A favourite: you
can pin a website to the Win 7 taskbar, and if the website developers
add a few lines of code to their page, the taskbar icon gets a
'jumplist' showing often-chosen features. (Download the beta and try
this with Facebook or the Wall Street Journal). The result: a pinned
website can act more like an application on the hard-drive.
Currently in beta, Microsoft has not committed to a release date. And
be warned – if you download and install the IE 9 beta, it will replace
your existing Internet Explorer version. Nevertheless, the interface
and performance improvements may make it worth trying out, both for
users of older IE versions and for those who have abandoned IE for
another browser – it's the first version of IE in a decade that I can
IE 9 won't put an end to the browser wars, however. Both Google and
Mozilla have new browser versions of their own up their sleeves, and
both have proven able to develop new versions much more often than
Microsoft. And by failing to support Windows XP (to say nothing of
Macintosh or Linux), Microsoft is ensuring that millions of users will
have to turn to an Internet Explorer competitor to get an up to date