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This is why you should use Internet Explorer 9

It's a little bit ironic: I was in San Francisco for the launch of IE9, yet I still haven't written anything about it. A lot has already been covered by Lee, but there are still a few hidden gems and neat details that you might not know about. In an effort to continue our exhaustive and unrivalled coverage of Web browsers, I'm going to give you my take on Microsoft's new, prospective champion.

It's hard to describe just what makes Internet Explorer 9 such joy to use. It would be easy to say 'it just works,' but that would be a cop-out. IE9 is like a simple, beautifully elegant dress -- sleek lines, no frills, but masterfully designed with a singular purpose in mind: Web browsing.

The first thing that strikes you with IE9 -- except the fact that it requires a frickin' reboot to install -- is just how smooth your interaction with the browser, and thus the Web, is. The UI has been designed by a genius, and the way tabs and windows whoosh around is reminiscent of Firefox's Panorama. There's definitely been a move towards more tactile interfaces in recent years, and it leaves Chrome feeling positively clunky in comparison.

There are little things, like the perfection of the address bar (the 'One Box'): notice how it 'greys out' when your mouse isn't near it; how the stop and refresh buttons are also there (and movable, if you prefer them on the left); how you can turn search-as-you-type on and off. It's so perfect, and such a glorious amalgam of Firefox and Chrome, that it hurts.


Moving on (I've calmed down now), the unified tab-and-address bar area, which has received a lot of flak for being too small for power-users, is resizable! You can simply make the address bar narrower, leaving more space for tabs. More space is also dedicated to tabs on wider displays: screen widths over 1280 pixels (i.e., every power-user) have two thirds of that space reserved for tabs -- it's only on smaller screens that the address bar occupies half the width (and it's still resizable!).


Putting the One Box (Omnibox, eat your heart out) on the same line as the tabs also puts IE9 into first place as far as vertical space is concerned. It's about 20 pixels more compact than Chrome, but almost half the size of Firefox 4's bulky address-and-tabs-and-huge-orange-button setup.

Then there's the Windows 7 taskbar, or 'Superbar,' integration. When I first saw it in action during the keynote speech, I was dubious, but I needn't have worried; it's awesome. You almost don't need tabs -- simply pin your top five most-visited sites and use the Superbar instead! If you haven't seen it in action yet, visit Twitter (in IE9 of course) and drag the tab down to the Superbar. Open another tab -- your 'mentions' pane, for example. Now hover over the Twitter icon on the Superbar; you have quick access to every open tab!

The pinned app icon also has a jumplist that can be added with a few META tags in a site's HTML. Right click your Twitter icon and you can jump straight to 'New Tweet.' A site can also notify you of changes to a page through the Superbar -- if you pin Facebook to your superbar, you'll see a red star appear when there's activity on your news stream.


IE9 blurs the difference between the Web and your operating system -- and that's intentional. The average user now spends so much time surfing the Web that the underlying operating system, and downloaded, locally-run apps, have become all but redundant. Remember, too, that Google is working on a browser that is an operating system.

After talking to Microsoft, Google, and Mozilla in San Francisco and Mountain View, I'm sure that this is just the opening salvo in the browser-as-a-platform crusade. All three major browsers have now assembled their forces -- HTML5, standards compliance, fast JavaScript execution, and hardware accelerated rendering -- and it makes me wonder whether Windows 7 might be the last local software-oriented operating system that we'll see. It certainly makes sense for Google to push Chrome OS -- they have nothing to lose! -- but it leaves a huge question mark hanging ominously over the fate of Windows 8.

We're now moving at such a speed that in the next couple of years, Web apps will become so tightly integrated to the parent OS that they will simply become apps. You'll be able to write one app in JavaScript and CSS that looks the same across every browser -- and thus every platform: mobile, desktop, and television. Both end-users and developers should be salivating.

[Internet Explorer 9 download link]

Tags: browser, browser wars, BrowserWars, html5, ie9, internet explorer, internet explorer 9, InternetExplorer, InternetExplorer9, microsoft, web apps, web platform, WebApps, WebPlatform

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