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Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Microsoft Releases Second IE9 Platform Preview
Last March at its MIX10 web developer conference, Microsoft unveiled Internet Explorer 9 Platform Preview, a bare-bones app that showed off the company's next browser engine's improved speed using hardware acceleration and support for emerging HTML 5, CSS3, and SVG (scalable vector graphics) markup.
At the time, the company committed to releasing updates every eight weeks. On Wednesday, Microsoft has surpassed that target by one week.
"At PDC (Microsoft's Professional Developer Conference last November), we talked about performance, hardware acceleration, and same markup," Dean Hachamovitch, Microsoft's general manager of Internet Explorer, said in a call with PCMag.com on Tuesday. "And everyone talked about performance. At MIX (the company's Web developer conference last March), we talked about performance, hardware acceleration, and same markup, and everyone talked about hardware acceleration. This time, we're talking about performance, hardware acceleration, and same markup, and I really want same markup to come through clearly this time."
"Same markup" was clearly the mantra for this release. The premise is that Web developers should only have to write one version of their site code and expect it to run on any Web browser, particularly when it comes to CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), which is used to determine how page elements will be laid out. Past versions of IE, particularly IE6, have notoriously forced Web developers jump through hoops to get their sites to look and work as they do in other browsers, especially Firefox.
"In a nutshell," said Hachamovitch, "same markup is this crucial lynchpin for HTML 5 and for the Web to get better. Same markup means that developers can spend more of their time making the web great, and less of their time doing something special for this browser or that browser."
Hachamovitch backs up this intention, noting that as of Wednesday, Microsoft has submitted a total of 7,000 new tests to the W3C since the platform preview's release. The W3C is the official web standards body, and Microsoft has submitted thousands of tests case to the organization over the years. And Microsoft's Paul Cotton is a co-chair of the organization's HTML working group. (One question will be whether developers will find themselves needing to recode their existing Web sites with the new, universal markup.)
IE9's performance on the Acid3 test, a measure of support for browser capabilities that some developers would like to use but haven't necessarily been ratified by the W3C, has also improved. This second preview improves IE9's score to 68 out of 100, up from 55 in the first platform preview and up from a score of 20 in IE8. Acid3 was recently changed to reflect a privacy issue, with the result that the new IE9 platform preview result page looks uglier than before.
On the HTML 5 front, Hachamovitch has made news by posting a blog entry stating that IE9 would only support H.264 as the codec for browser-based, non-plugin-requiring video. This came in the midst of the Apple-Adobe war over Flash versus HTML 5 video. The first IE9 preview did not implement this capability, and neither does today's release, but I did get Hachamovitch to confirm that this feature would be implemented in the next version of the platform preview, due in another eight weeks.
Today's release comes with a dozen or so new sample tests that show speed and standards support. CSS Media Queries are now supported as are more SVG capabilities. To try out the browser engine for yourself, download it from ietestdrive.com, and if you're a developer, look forward to a world of "same markup."