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FAQ: Say hello to IE9

Microsoft pulls aside the curtain, sneak peeks its next-gen browser

March 17, 2010 06:47 AM ET

Computerworld - Microsoft yesterday unveiled a very early edition of its next-generation browser, IE9. So early, in fact, that it's more "pre" than pre-release, pre-beta or even pre-alpha.

Ladies and gentlemen, say hello to "IE9 Platform Preview."

That's a new name for Microsoft, and one meant, as one company manager said yesterday, to evoke the "major change" the software maker believes it's taking in Internet Explorer development.

Just what is Platform Preview? Can you even run it? And if so, do you want to?

Those are just some of the first questions you'll undoubtedly have over the months ahead as Microsoft starts adding muscle to the bare bones framework of IE9.

Microsoft's calling this a "Platform Preview." Is that just a fancy name for beta? Not even close.

This build is not a fully functional browser by any stretch. It lacks critical user features, including an address bar (what?) and a back button. Instead, Microsoft is billing this as a lightweight frame wrapped around the IE9 rendering, layout and JavaScript engines that it's passing around so developers and the technically adventurous can try it out and let Microsoft know what they think.

Will there be a beta? Yes, says Microsoft. What it's not saying is when it will ship a feature-complete beta. And since this is the first time that the company's cranked out what's essentially a developer pre-alpha -- or even pre-pre-alpha -- there's no history to go on to speculate when that might be.

Can I run the preview in Windows XP? No.

IE9's graphics processor powered-acceleration requires Direct2D and DirectWrite, APIs created for Windows 7, then back-ported last October to Vista Service Pack 2 (SP2). Windows XP? Flat out of luck.

Will IE9 run on Windows XP when it ships in final form? Don't count on it.

In its own FAQ, Microsoft took on the question, but didn't answer it. "It's too early to talk about features of the Internet Explorer 9 Beta," the company said.

But the chances that IE9 will run on the 2001 OS are slim to none. Elsewhere in that same FAQ, Microsoft said as much when it noted that IE9 relies on "technologies [that] depend on advancements in the display driver model introduced first in Windows Vista." That's the tip-off, as Vista completely departed from the XP driver model, one of the issues that gave early Vista users fits.

It would be impossible to backport those technologies to XP, economically brainless to do so for an OS slated for retirement in four years, or both.

When will Microsoft release IE9? The company isn't saying.

How do I use the Platform Preview without an address bar? To browse to a page, select Open from the Page menu, or press Ctrl-O. In the Open Web Page dialog that pops up, type the destination URL, then click OK.

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