Internet Explorer 9: Next stop, public beta

Microsoft has released Platform Preview 4 of IE9, and it has begun to hint that the next release will be the public beta

With the success of Internet Explorer 8--gaining 1.38 percent market share in the United States to lead the pack with more than 42 percent of the market--it is easy to forget that Microsoft is hard at work developing Internet Explorer 9. Today, Microsoft unleashed the fourth Platform Preview release for developers, and told partners and developers to start preparing--the public beta of IE9 is coming soon.

Internet Explorer 9 is in high demand in the developer community. The IE9 Platform Preview has been downloaded more than 2.5 million times, and the Test Drive site has been viewed 20 million times.

The focus of the IE9 team has been on developing a cutting edge Web browser as fast as it is capable. When Microsoft shipped IE8, the Acid3 score was a paltry--perhaps even shameful--20. Responding to feedback from developers who have used the IE9 Platform Preview releases, Microsoft has increased the Acid3 score for IE9 by 40 points. This release has an Acid3 score of 95--almost five times that of IE8.

A post on Microsoft's IEBlog explains that the IE9 development team is "committed to the right foundation for HTML5 applications, including performance and ensuring the same markup and same script work across browsers. One aspect of doing these things well is integrating the JavaScript engine natively inside the browser, rather than bolting it onto the side to support multiple JavaScript engines as some other browsers do today. How a JavaScript engine is integrated into the browser is as important as the engine itself for real-world HTML5."

With Microsoft's new JavaScript engine--codenamed Chakra--Internet Explorer is faster than ever. According to Webkit.org SunSpider, IE9 PP4 comes in at 326 milliseconds--more than 11 times faster than IE8, and even faster than the recently released Safari 5.0 browser from Apple. Check out the IE9 Test Drive site for examples of what IE9 is capable of, or to download Platform Preview 4.

Microsoft has been releasing new updates to IE9 approximately every eight weeks, and now it has begun hinting that the next release could be the public beta. If that is true, it means that the general public might be able to start using the beta version of IE9 by sometime in early October.

The timeline for IE8 from initial beta to official release was about one year--the beta was available in March of 2008 and IE8 officially launched in March of 2009. Assuming a similar timeline, IE9 should be available at least a few months ahead of the rumored release of Windows 8 in late 2011. All of the timelines are pure speculation at this point, though.

A blog post by James Pratt on the Exploring IE blog advises "Between now and the Beta, we encourage developers to test their web sites with PP4 to make sure well they'll work with the Internet Explorer 9 Beta and begin to reimagine what they can build when they have a browser that is architected to take advantage of your hardware through Windows."

IE8 has emerged as the leading Web browser in only 18 months. With the improvements Microsoft is making in IE9, it will be interesting to see if it can knock IE8 off of the pedestal even faster.

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Tony Bradley

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