Microsoft ships IE9 beta, pushes Web, not browser

Leaving out Windows XP users is 'major shortcoming,' says analyst

Microsoft today released the first public beta of Internet Explorer 9 (IE9), its latest effort to reclaim the ground it's lost to rivals Mozilla, Google and others.

"People go to the Web for sites, not for the browser," Dean Hachamovitch, the vice president for IE, said at a release event in San Francisco Wednesday morning. "How can IE make sites shine?"

IE9, which Microsoft announced almost a year ago and has offered up as four developer previews since March 2010, features hardware acceleration, faster JavaScript rendering and a dramatically streamlined interface that mimics the minimalist approach first used by Google's Chrome, then copied by others, including Mozilla's Firefox.

"IE9 has a clean design that puts the focus on the sites, not the browser," said Hachamovitch, who repeatedly stressed that the new browser will get out of the way and put the spotlight on Web content.

One analyst's reaction was mixed.

"It's a great browser, with lots of improvements, and it will keep users who are now in the IE fold from straying further," said Ray Valdes, an analyst with Gartner, from the IE9 beta launch event. "But I don't think it's going to take share away from others. It's not going to bring people back into the IE camp who have left."

As Microsoft confirmed earlier this year, IE9 will not run on Windows XP , the world's most popular operating system, which still powers two out of every three machines running Windows.

Windows XP users who try to download the beta of IE9 are simply told, "Since you're running Windows XP, you won't be able to install Internet Explorer 9 unless you upgrade to a more recent version of Windows."

A rival used that failing to poke at Microsoft.

"We like what we see, we just wish it was available for Windows XP as well, for all the other benefits outside of hardware acceleration," said Opera Software spokesman Thomas Ford.

Valdes agreed. "This is a major shortcoming of the IE9 strategy," he said. "And it's an opportunity for competitors to continue to chip away from IE's share."

Although Microsoft has convinced millions of users to upgrade to IE8, its global share of the browser usage market has continued to decline this year, falling two percentage points since January.

Microsoft won't let Windows XP users try IE9, but instead tells them to upgrade to a newer OS.

Most of that loss has gone to Chrome, Google's two-year-old browser. According to the latest statistics from Web measurement firm Net Applications, Chrome accounted for 7.5% of all browsers in use in August. Mozilla's Firefox owned a 22.9% share, while all versions of IE combined for a 60.4% share.

Microsoft hopes IE9 will turn that around.

Reviews for the new beta have been upbeat. Computerworld's Preston Gralla, for example, said the beta "puts IE back as a major competitor in the browser wars."

Gralla singled out IE9's performance as one reason why Microsoft is back in the game. "With IE9, Microsoft has fixed one of Internet Explorer's biggest drawbacks -- speed," he said.

Microsoft's pinned much of IE9's speed on hardware acceleration, which shunts some page construction chores to the PC's graphics processor. "Web sites can offer richer experiences because of hardware acceleration," Hachamovitch said.

But competitors, especially Mozilla, have taken exception to Microsoft's claims. Last week, Aza Dotzler, Mozilla's chief technology evangelist, said, " We are faster and we were first" at adding acceleration.

The IE9 beta is available in 33 languages -- 29 localized versions and another four when the Language Interface Pack (LIP) is installed -- and in versions for Windows Vista, Windows 7 , Server 2008 and Server 2008 R2.

Installing the beta overwrites existing copies of IE7 or IE8, but users can return to their original browser by uninstalling IE9 through the Control Panel.

IE9 is available from Microsoft's download center for Vista/Server 2008 and Windows 7/Server 2008 R2 , or from its IE9 site .

Versions for 32- and 64-bit editions of Windows are available separately.

Tags GoogleapplicationsMicrosoftbrowsersWindowssoftwareinternetoperating systemsmozillaGartner

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Gregg Keizer

Computerworld (US)

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