Internet Explorer 9 speeds past the competition
The Notification Bar offers other info as well. It tells you, for example, if you're visiting a Web page that includes both secure and nonsecure content, such as an online store that uses an HTTPS/SSL secure connection, but also displays ads, images or scripts from a non-HTTPS server. At that point, the Notification Bar warns you that IE9 is displaying only secure content and gives you the option of displaying both types of content by clicking the "Show all content" button. This is useful but potentially annoying, because this notification appears every time you visit the Web site; you have to click the button each time.
Improved security and a download manager
IE9 also includes a variety of security improvements. One of the most important is to the SmartScreen Filter, which is designed to protect you from visiting phishing sites, and whose capabilities have been expanded to protect against malicious downloads.
When you download a file in IE9, the SmartScreen Filter uses a new "download reputation" feature to examine the file's reputation -- how many other people have downloaded the file, and if they have found it to be safe or malicious. If the SmartScreen Filter determines it's safe, you simply download the file. But if the file has a malicious reputation, or if very few people have downloaded it so that it has no reputation to check, you're warned. You can then decide whether to download.
This feature won't replace your existing anti-malware program. It's designed for protection against malicious files so new that anti-malware software may not have had a chance to flag them as malicious. Some anti-malware software has begun to use similar technology to this, but still, it's nice to have this built into IE9 -- multiple means of protection are always a good idea.
IE9 includes a well-designed Download Manager that tracks all of your downloaded files and lets you search through them. In addition to the download reputation feature, the manager will warn you when it detects that you're downloading a file from a malicious Web site.
Internet Explorer still trails Firefox and Chrome in one area: add-ons. Both those browsers have thriving ecosystems of third-party developers writing add-ons; Internet Explorer doesn't.
Through the years, Microsoft has tried to get around this by creating technologies that Web sites and others can easily plug into, such as the aforementioned Web Slices and Accelerators, as a way to send information from another Web site directly to your current browser page.
Despite Microsoft prodding and promotion, neither of those technologies ever took off. At this point, there doesn't seem to be a way for Microsoft to build that same ecosystem. If you're a fan of plug-ins and add-ons, you likely won't be a fan of Internet Explorer.
Another issue is that Microsoft has no plans to develop IE versions for mobile platforms other than Windows Phone 7. This may put it at a disadvantage in a mobile future when people want to sync browser information among their computers and mobile devices.
The bottom line
If you've stopped using Internet Explorer because of speed problems or a tired-looking interface, you should give IE9 a try (assuming you use Windows 7 or Vista, of course). You'll be surprised by its dramatic speed improvements and slicker interface. Improved adherence to Web standards is a plus as well, as are new features such as a double-duty address bar and the Performance Advisor. Existing IE users will want to upgrade right away -- it's hard to argue against a faster, cleaner-looking browser with a host of other nice extras.
Preston Gralla is a contributing editor for Computerworld.com and the author of more than 35 books, including How the Internet Works (Que, 2006).
Read more about Internet in Computerworld's Internet Topic Center.
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