With IE9, Microsoft bets on the power of chips, HTML5

The next iteration of the Internet Explorer browser, IE9, is only in its barebones "Platform Preview" state, but Microsoft is beating the big drum early and giving developers more time to test the preview for speed, compatibility and performance.

As more business applications go online, browser performance and reliability are high on the minds of IT managers. Over the past year, Internet Explorer has lost market share by 8 percentage points while browsers Firefox, Chrome and Safari have all gained share, according to Web analytics company Net Applications.

Microsoft aims to win users back to IE9 with two main enhancements: HTML5 support and a faster new JavaScript engine called "Chakra", says Internet Explorer GM Dean Hachamovitch.

"IE9 will make HTML5 apps better by taking advantage of PC hardware through Vista and Windows 7," says Hachamovitch.

By PC hardware, Hachamovitch is referring to GPUs (graphical processing units), which support a PC's graphical elements like video editing and gaming. In a demo during his MIX10 keynote speech in mid-March, Hachamovitch compared an HD HTML5 video playing in the IE9 Platform Preview on a Windows 7 netbook to the same HD HTML5 video playing in a Chrome browser.

A comparison of HD HTML5 video in Google's Chrome browser to the same video in the IE9 "Platform Preview."

The Chrome video was choppy with frames dropping out and used the full CPU (central processing unit), whereas the IE9 video was smooth, using much less of the CPU.

Hachamovitch has been adamant that the bedrock for IE9 is GPU-powered HTML5, which is the most advanced version of HTML (hypertext markup language), the language that runs all Web pages. HTML5 uses the computer's GPU to provide in-browser support for richer video, audio and graphics, thereby taking the burden off the CPU and allowing the computer to run faster. The ultimate promise of HTML5 is that it will end the reliance on downloaded proprietary plug-ins like Adobe Flash.

With IE9, Microsoft also aims to catch up with and surpass competitors Firefox, Chrome and Safari in terms of HTML5 support and vows to be more standards-compliant with the W3C, the international standards organization for the World Wide Web.

[ For complete coverage on Microsoft's new Windows 7 operating system -- including hands-on reviews, video tutorials and advice on enterprise rollouts -- see CIO.com's Windows 7 Bible. ]

Microsoft says IE9 supports the following HTML5 features: h.264 video, a popular video format standard used by such sites as YouTube and Vimeo; embedded audio where tags can be put directly in a webpage; and SVGs (scalable vector graphics), which are graphics that scale more smoothly because they are drawn as vectors, not plain images.

So what does this all mean for business users and CIOs?

Because Microsoft has not announced a final ship date for IE9 or even a timetable for a beta, it is too early for Hachamovitch to discuss new security features in IE9. But for compatibility, a major concern for IT, he stressed that the same markup language used in IE7 and IE8 can be used in IE9 for better speed and performance. Also, CIOs will get more efficient use of their hardware, specifically GPUs, with IE9.

"There's this notion of underutilized hardware, and CIOs with scarce dollars to spend will get the most out of their hardware with IE9 because of GPU-powered HTML5," says Hachamovitch.

The IE9 Platform Preview works with Vista SP2 and, of course, Windows 7, but enterprises and consumers still running Windows XP will be out of luck as Microsoft confirmed that IE9 will not support Windows XP. This makes Microsoft the first major browser developer to end support for XP, and is a clear attempt to spur XP users to upgrade.

Yet, IE9 adoption will have to contend with the fact that Windows XP is still by far the most popular operating system, with 64.4% of the overall OS market share in March, according to Net Applications.

There have been 700,000 downloads of the IE9 Platform Preview from Microsoft's IE9 Test Drive site, and 60% of the bugs have been addressed, according to a source close to Microsoft who asked not to be identified.

Microsoft did confirm that it will provide a new test build of IE9 Platform Preview every eight weeks.

Shane O'Neill is a senior writer at CIO.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/smoneill. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter at twitter.com/CIOonline.

Read more about browsers in CIO's Browsers Drilldown.

This story, "With IE9, Microsoft bets on the power of chips, HTML5" was originally published by CIO.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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