Internet Explorer 9 speeds past the competition

The latest version of Microsoft's browser is fast, lean and means business.

Throw away what you think you know about Internet Explorer -- because the just-released IE9 will turn it all on its ear. Think IE is sluggish? Think again, because according to SunSpider tests, it rivals or beats the speed demons Chrome and Opera. Believe that IE sports a tired-looking interface? No longer --- it now has the same type of stripped-down look that Chrome originated, and that the latest version of Firefox uses as well.

IE9 (available only for Vista and Windows 7) also introduces other goodies, such as HTML5 support, Windows 7 integration, a double-duty address bar and more. It's clearly Microsoft's best shot at stopping the erosion of its market share by rivals Firefox and Chrome.

Moving to a clean interface

Microsoft takes a page from Google Chrome with its design for IE9 -- it's simple and clean, putting as much focus as possible on Web content and not on the browser itself.

Internet Explorer 9
Internet Explorer 9 sports a simple, stripped-down interface.

All unneeded buttons and controls have been eliminated, and tabs are now at the top of the browser. (For a bit of simple eye candy, the top and the sides of IE9 are transparent.) The arrangement works. Web pages take center stage, with very little to distract you. There's not even a search box; as with Chrome, the address bar does double-duty as a search box.

Three small icons on the upper-right corner of the screen give you access to IE9's options: a Home button, a Favorites button for managing bookmarks, and a Tools button shaped like a gear. The Tools button leads you to most of the browser's other features and options, such as security, privacy, add-ons, customizing search and so on.

Internet Explorer 9
When you open a new tab in IE9, you get thumbnails of frequently visited pages.

There's another new feature to the IE9 interface as well. When you open a new tab, it displays thumbnails of pages you frequently visit. Rival browsers have done this for some time, but IE9 adds a new twist: At the bottom of each thumbnail is a bar that shows how frequently you visit each page. The longer the bar, the more you've visited the page. And there are some very useful other things you can do from this page as well, including reopening your last browsing session, reopening tabs you've closed during the browsing session, and getting recommendations for sites you might want to visit, based on the sites you frequently visit. You can also launch an anonymous browsing session, which IE terms "InPrivate Browsing."

IE9: The new speed demon?

Among the loudest complaints against previous versions of Internet Explorer was its lack of speed. In a world in which graphics-heavy Web pages get heavier every year, videos are becoming normal elements and Web-based apps are replacing desktop-based applications, this sluggishness could have become a fatal flaw.

Microsoft was clearly cognizant of that when it went to the drawing board for Internet Explorer 9. Its new JavaScript engine, called Chakra, uses multiple processor cores to do its work, and compiles scripts in the background on one of those cores. IE9 also uses the computer's GPU to accelerate text and graphics rendering, especially HTML5 graphics.

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