IE 8 vs IE 9: What's the Big Deal?
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So what's the big deal about IE9? Why are so many people so interested in this new installment, and how does it stack up against Microsoft's last release, IE8?
It All Comes Down to Speed
Internet Explorer 9 proves that, though a bit late in the race, Microsoft has been keeping a close eye on the current browser wars. With HTML5 and CSS3 quickly becoming the new widespread web standards, and with browsers like Firefox, Google Chrome, and Opera battling it out to become the fastest web browser available, Microsoft has been hard at work behind the scenes with the newest installment of Internet Explorer.
So how fast is IE9?
To put it simply, it's extremely fast. While the tests I tried do seem a bit biased in Microsoft's favor, (the Internet Explorer Test Drive website) you can't argue with the fact that all of the tests are standard HTML5 and CSS3 and therefore should work the same across all browsers. In my preliminary tests, IE9 easily outperformed not only IE8, but Firefox as well.
Compared to IE8, not only do all pages (old or new web standards) load faster, but the browser itself feels a lot more responsive. Starting the browser is a lot less of a waiting game than before, though at times can still take a bit. Once loaded, new tabs open instantly, and pages load within a second or two, depending on its content.
What's New in IE9
When it comes to browsers, speed means a lot, but it definitely isn't everything. Presentation, features, add-ons, and overall functionality all come into question when choosing a browser. With IE9, there have been quite a few changes made when it comes to both the user interface and functionality.
IE9 User Interface
This is a big one, IE9 just looks like a new browser. Moving away from the cluttered look of IE8, Microsoft took a minimalist approach to the user interface. For the most part, there is only one bar above the browsing area. The back and forward buttons are enlarged, followed by the address bar, tabs, and three small home, favorite, and option buttons. This makes for a very clean browsing experience.
New Download Manager in IE9
Downloads in IE9 run much like Google Chrome at first, with a download bar on the bottom of the page. When you open the "View Downloads" page however, you'll notice a few new features. Along with the search functionality and the ability to pause and resume downloads, you'll now be notified if a file may be malicious so you can protect yourself before your anti-virus kicks in. The downloads manager also does a better job at showing you where downloaded files are located on your machine, and makes changing this location easier as well.
Pinning Sites in IE9
One new feature that is an interesting addition to the browser is the new way to pin sites to the taskbar. Sure, before you could do the same with a shortcut, but the new method just seems more "application-like."
Simply dragging the site's icon from the top address bar to your task bar will pin the site. When you click the icon, the site will load up in IE9. What I like most about this, and partly why it feels more like an application, is that the back and forward buttons will change color depending on the icon color.
Gmail, with its red and white mail icon, will turn the buttons red. It seems like a small addition, but it really does feel more like a gmail "app."
As an added bonus, these pinned sites support Windows 7 application shortcuts, so right-clicking on a pinned site (that takes advantage of this feature), will bring up links and options for that site.
Better Tabbed Browsing in IE9
Tabs got a bit of a makeover in a few ways in IE9. They now show up next to your address bar to save space, which actually works pretty well. Even with multiple tabs open, the smaller space still seems to provide enough viewing room to know what tabs are what. Unless the pages you visit don't have icons, you shouldn't have much trouble distinguishing between tabs.
Another added feature to the tabs system, is "tear-off tabs." This feature, as seen in other browsers, lets you pull a tab out of the browser window so you can view two sites side-by-side.
Being a Windows 7 based browser, having tear-off tabs is almost a necessity. Pulling a tab out of IE9 and sliding it to the side of your screen to get the half-page auto-re-size just feels right. Though it may seem like a small feature, tear-off tabs is actually a great addition to IE9 and does wonders for productivity.
Opening a new tab also shows a "Popular Sites" page that displays your most-visited websites, much like you see in Google Chrome. Microsoft kept the page aesthetically pleasing by matching the site's icon colors with a bar underneath that shows how much a certain site is used. This helps to better distinguish sites from one another.
IE9 Add-on Performance Advisor
When it comes to performance, even the fastest browsers will slow down dramatically if you have too many add-ons (or just a few resource-intensive add-ons). The new add-on performance advisor will let you know the load times of each add-on to help you decide which ones may need to be disabled. Knowing what may be slowing down your browser is pretty important, especially when it comes to third-party add-ons.
While I'm not 100% ready to make the switch from other browsers, I do believe that Microsoft has finally started addressing the major issues with previous versions of Internet Explorer. More importantly, they are not only embracing new standards, but they are listening to user feedback and developing accordingly.
I believe IE9 is a much needed improvement over IE8, and a real competitor to other current generation browsers. I also think that a lot more people will be interested in testing out IE9, even if they currently don't use IE8.