Internet Explorer 9 Review

excellent
key review info
application features
  • Hardware-accelerated text, video, and graphics
  • (9 more, see all...)

Two years. That’s how long it took Microsoft to move from version 8 of Internet Explorer to a new edition. The ninth version of the web browser passed through 8 Platform previews, one beta and a Release Candidate to reach end users’ computers as a final release.

Given the amount of attention it received with each improvement rolling out, it is no surprise to anyone that they broke the mold once again in order to shape their browser into a modern web navigator that evolved towards the current site-centric UI concept.

Getting it on the system is still done as a streamlined update, so a restart is required if you want to benefit from the new navigation experience right away.

Compared to previous editions, the interface in Internet Explorer 9 has been adapted to fit the site-centric concept Microsoft is going after. And they managed to do a great with shifting the focus from the browser to the web content by placing the tabs alongside the multifunctional address bar (One Box).

The result is the slimmest frame in the history of web browsers, only 55 pixels in height with the tabs alongside the address bar. Thus you can focus on the page and the content it delivers easier. Even if you place the tabs under One Box Internet Explorer manages to match the slenderness of Google Chrome interface.

Some users may find the default tab configuration a bit cumbersome to work with since fewer tabs fit along One Box. But this design was elected based on Microsoft’s feedback from users which revealed that most people work on average with five tabs at a time.

Organizing tabs into groups has been is available in this version as well, but, on the downside, we noticed that there is no option to save an entire group to favorites. In the context of such a slim frame introduced by IE9 this comes as a downside.

It is hard to believe that under this frail-looking structure there are actually plenty of configuration options. For those longing for the menu bar it has not been discarded yet but merely hidden. Pressing “Alt” key will bring all the traditional elements into view. However, the most frequently used and also the most important options are available under the “Tools” menu pinned at the end of the tab bar.

If some options are not available there you should find them by right-clicking either the blank space in the upper part of the interface or one of the tabs. Going with the first choice allows you to bulk the interface with elements such as the menu bar, commands bar and even the status bar.

“Tools” menu gives you access to safety features, the most prominent in this version being Tracking Protection and ActiveX Filtering. The first one is designed to cut off the browser’s communication with specific websites that gather information about your web navigation habits.

If you enable this service, Internet Explorer 9 automatically blacklists a set of domains snooping at your information. This list is created based on the websites you access. There is also the possibility to add Tracking Protection Lists (TPLs) from companies and organizations that made from helping the users protect their privacy a purpose. You can find several sets of predefined TPLs on this page.

ActiveX Filtering has the same privacy protection goal as Tracking Protection, only it acts on ActiveX controls, which are prevented from being loaded in the page. However, although enabling this filtering will lead to faster browsing it can also prevent you from accessing content you want, such as videos. The good news is that you can easily disable ActiveX filtering straight from One Box (click on the blue restriction icon to see the options).

An additional layer of protection, this time against phishing websites and downloading malware, is SmartScreen Filter. It is not a new feature like the aforementioned two, but it continues to do a great job. During our tests we used a batch of 23 phishing websites, out of which 5 were no longer alive. From the remaining 18 only two got through, resulting in a total of 16 phishing sites being blocked through IE9’s SmartScreen Filter.

As for performance, we used Mozilla’s JavaScript benchmark tool, Kraken, and compared Microsoft’s latest IE with Google Chrome. The results coming in were no surprise given the recent optimization in Chrome. IE9 came in second, almost 50% behind Google’s web browser, with 18735.4ms, compared to 10072.4ms.

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HTML5 is quite the buzzword in the web browser world these days, each popular product boasting better support for the standard, and the leader of the pack in terms of market share makes no exception. However, a simple look at the HTML5 test page shows that Microsoft is still pretty far behind Chrome with a score of 130 out of 400. Google’s product came in first with a whopping 288 points. Even Mozilla Firefox 3.6.15 did better, scoring 155 points. Of course, this dispute is not even close from being over so there is still plenty of time for improvement as the standard still has some 3 years ahead the final specification.

On the same HTML5 note, Internet Explorer 9 does not offer support for WebM video standard, which enjoys Google’s full attention, sticking instead with the proprietary H.264 format. However, it looks like the Mountain View company prepared a surprise shortly after IE9 RTM’s official release and readied a plug-in that permits it to play WebM video. It is a technological preview, but Google is not wasting any chance to spread the open-source web video standard.

Internet Explorer 9 can without a doubt be labeled the best IE in Microsoft’s history, delivering fast, modern browsing. Tab ripping may not be among the original features in the application but pining websites to Windows taskbar definitely is, with their dynamic Jump Lists that let you open a specific part of the page; if you pin Twitter or Facebook to taskbar when you right click them you have the option to open the website on a specific page, such as Messages, Mentions or Favorites for Twitter or News, Events, Friends for Facebook (check the images below).

The latest IE evolved beautifully towards the site-centric concept, thus shifting the focus from the web browser itself to the actual web content. Handling tabs is a pretty comfortable experience, download notifications are discreetly shown in the lower part of the window and the new download manager is able to keep a history list of the activity as well as offer protection against malicious files.

The address bar has turned into a multifunctional area that not only serves the URL of the page you’re one, but also works as a search bar for search engines and incorporates “Refresh” and “Stop” buttons. Moreover, it is the place from where you can easily annul restrictions for ActiveX controls and the tracking mechanism.

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The Good

IE9 simply got better. From the multifunctional One Box, minimalist interface that provides more screen for the web content, the dynamic Jump Lists or the discreet notification system to the improved SmartScreen Filter, the download manager sporting malware protection or the Tracking Protection system, the browser just got back into the game.

The Bad

Opening previous browsing sessions is still done in an uncomfortable way, either from the hidden Tools menu or by opening a new tab and choosing the option from the lower part of the screen. If you choose the latter method when the tabs open the new tab will not be replaced by one of the tabs in the session. It would also be nice to have the option to save tab groups to favorites section for later referral.

We noticed that toggling ActiveX Filtering off/on from the "Tools" menu does not actually affect page rendering. In our case applying or lifting the restriction worked only from One Box.

For some websites it failed to display the favicons and these were replaced by the IE logo, which made identifying a bit more difficult.

The Truth

Internet Explorer 9 moves faster and much better than its predecessor, has a slicker look and adds huge improvements to privacy protection. The new interface is more powerful despite its reduced size. Most of the options have been intelligently docked into icons serving entire menus.

Even with the new JavaScript engine, Chakra, Internet Explorer 9 does not manage to get close to Chrome’s speed and despite the much better handling of tabs it does not attain the customization level available in Firefox. But it is definitely heading the right way and has a strong chance to turn the tables.
user interface 5
features 4
ease of use 5
pricing / value 4


final rating 5
Editor's review
excellent
 
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