Microsoft ships IE9 beta, pushes Web, not browser

Leaving out Windows XP users is 'major shortcoming,' says analyst

Microsoft today released the first public beta of Internet Explorer 9, its latest effort to reclaim the ground it has lost to rivals Mozilla, Google and others.

"People go to the Web for sites, not for the browser," Dean Hachamovitch, vice president for IE, said at a release event in San Francisco Wednesday morning. "How can IE make sites shine?"

IE9, which Microsoft announced almost a year ago and has offered up as four developer previews since March 2010, features hardware acceleration, faster JavaScript rendering and a dramatically streamlined interface that mimics the minimalist approach first used by Google's Chrome and then copied by others, including Mozilla's Firefox.

"IE9 has a clean design that puts the focus on the sites, not the browser," said Hachamovitch, who repeatedly stressed that the new browser will get out of the way and put the spotlight on Web content.

One analyst's reaction was mixed.

"It's a great browser, with lots of improvements, and it will keep users who are now in the IE fold from straying further," said Gartner analyst Ray Valdes, at the IE9 beta launch event. "But I don't think it's going to take share away from others. It's not going to bring people back into the IE camp who have left."

As Microsoft confirmed earlier this year, IE9 will not run on Windows XP, the world's most popular operating system, which still powers two out of every three machines running Windows.

Windows XP users who try to download the beta of IE9 are simply told, "Since you're running Windows XP, you won't be able to install Internet Explorer 9 unless you upgrade to a more recent version of Windows."

A rival used that failing to take a dig at Microsoft.

"We like what we see, we just wish it was available for Windows XP as well, for all the other benefits outside of hardware acceleration," said Opera Software spokesman Thomas Ford.

Valdes agreed. "This is a major shortcoming of the IE9 strategy," he said. "And it's an opportunity for competitors to continue to chip away from IE's share."

Although Microsoft has convinced millions of users to upgrade to IE8, its global share of the browser usage market has continued to decline this year, falling two percentage points since January.

IE9 XP warning
Microsoft won't let Windows XP users try IE9, but instead tells them to upgrade to a newer OS.
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