After several months and preview releases, Microsoft has finally lifted the curtain for the Windows Explorer 9 beta release. Internet Explorer 9 is Microsoft’s attempt at not just catching up to the competition, but at actually surpassing them. Since enough sites will be focusing on just how many nanoseconds faster or slower the beta is compared to the competition, I’ll talk a little about the new minimalist interface.
After installing the beta, the first thing that’ll hit you once you load the beta up is just how much cleaner and better-looking Internet Explorer 9’s interface is. Gone is the barrage of toolbars, randomly placed icons, glaring colours; what you get now is a nice minimalistic, monochrome interface that fits surprisingly well into Windows 7.
While the interface sure is a major improvement in the looks department, it makes some curious choices I don’t really understand. Chief among these is the rather odd placement of the address bar. Not only does placing the address bar on the tab bar reduce the already limited space available for tabs, it also makes it impossible to glance at your url.
Tabs quickly become unreadable – have more than 4 tabs open, and you’ll be unable to read the page titles. Other browsers also suffer from this problem, but at least other browsers don’t waste 1/3 tab space on the address bar. Tab overflow is available in IE9 (unlike in some other browsers – yes, I’m looking at you, Chrome), and takes the form of arrows on either end of the tab bar.
The new tab page is an exact copy of what we already know from Opera and Chrome; in other words, a list of most often visited sites. It has the additional nice but useless touch of a usage indicator (i.e., how often you open the page in question). Sadly, the new tab page does not use miniatures – it just uses favicons and the name of the site.
Notifications pop up from the bottom in pretty much the same way other browsers have been doing for ages. Another oddity – which I’m ascribing to the software’s unfinished state – is that the
bookmarks favourites bar still uses the old-fashioned hideous gradient from IE7 and 8, which looks remarkably out of place in IE9. Also weird is the total lack of animations in the interface; if you close a tab, there’s no subtle gliding animations of the tabs rearranging as Chrome has, making it all kind of jarring.
There is one rendering issue which I’d like to address, and that’s fonts. As a Windows user, I’ve come to expect crystal-clear ClearType fonts, but for some reason, Internet Explorer 9 gives me slightly fuzzy fonts on some websites, fonts which reminded me of how Mac OS X renders its fonts. I’m assuming this is caused by the new feature in which font-rendering is hardware-accelerated, and lo and behold, switching to compatibility view returns fonts to their normal state.
IE9 also integrates very well with Windows 7, making optimal use of Jump Lists and the taskbar. For instance, you can pin any website to Windows 7’s taskbar, which has already become one of my favourite features in IE9. The website’s icon will appear in the top left of the window, functioning as a home button, while another nice touch is that the back and forward buttons will change colour to adapt to the pinned you’re currently viewing. This is very handy for more application-like websites such as Facebook and Gmail.
More technically included web people will have to weigh in on the standards support stuff, and impatient people will have to look at the performance stuff, but the interface of IE9 is an improvement over IE7 and 8 which introduces a few curious choices. I don’t think it’ll convince any of us hardcore users to switch back (they can pry Chrome from my cold dead hands), but it will surely leave a positive impression among people with no strong inclination one way or the other.
Overall it is very good job from Microsoft.
I’ve started installing it on my machines (2 of them are done now). The speed increase and overall visual pleasure is very noticeable.
Now give me better plugin support (and AdBlock+), and I’ll make the switch.
Just installed the beta myself. I tried a couple of demos from the IE9 platform preview page as well as Chrome Experiments and it’s pretty smooth on my box (which has a single core athlon x64).
It’s nice to see that IE is back in the game even though it’s unlikely that this release will help get rid of IE6.
I was also surprised to see the address/search bar on the same level as the tabs. Although on my wide screen there is still plenty of space, I can understand that people who open tons of tabs would be bothered by that. Tabs also appear as separate windows on the Windows 7 taskbar so it’s possible to have a thumbnail view that way.
Overall though, the UI is pretty much on par with FF4, Chrome and Opera with just a few buttons etc.
Hardware acceleration is good but FF4 has that too.
Finally the developer tools seem to be the same crappy thing that were included in IE8. I haven’t done more than open the window but it just looks the same which means Firebug is probably still miles ahead. But who knows what MS will come up with before RTM.
Location Bar combined with Search Box is good stuff. Too bad it makes way to a cramped UI with the Tabs moved up next to Location Bar. Kinda defeats the whole purpose of Tabs. Chrome got it right.
Favourites got moved to the right. Should have stayed on the left. Chrome messed that one too.
I hope this time IE users will get a comparable Adblock. InPrivate filtering just doesn’t cut it. Hopes the plugins APIs have been updated.
Other than that, it’s really fast. And pretty responsive too. It feels pretty good.
Edit: I forgot. The first thing I did was check YouTube for HTML5 videos. Still got the flash applet. Couldn’t resist.
Edited 2010-09-15 20:07 UTC