At 9pm PST (3pm AEST), Internet Explorer 9 will officially launch as the latest and greatest browser from Microsoft, and like IE8 before it, it takes another big step closer to competing with other modern browsers. IE9 introduces a new streamlined interface, improved performance, Windows 7 integration, and more.
Click on any of the images below to get a closer look.
The first thing you'll notice when launching IE9 is that the interface is completely new and takes up very little vertical space. Gone are the days of a million toolbars and lost screen real estate; in fact, the top toolbar is even more pixel-friendly than Chrome. It combines the most important navigation buttons, unified search and address bar, tabs and options buttons all on the same line. You can resize the address bar if need be, too, to fit your preferences, and all your options are available under one unified button, just like the newest version of Chrome. The address bar is pretty handy, giving you suggestions from your history and from Bing, complete with inline images to help you find what you're looking for. You can, of course, add other search engines if you so desire.
IE9 takes a flying leap toward its competitors in the under-the-hood realm, adding hardware acceleration (using your GPU to help render more intensive webapps) and lots of HTML5 support. Microsoft has a nice Test Drive page from which you can test these features out through little games and video demos. It's certainly not without a few issues (one of the games crashed my display driver, though there's no way to tell whether that was the browser's fault), and there are definitely a few random rendering issues—our one line "quicklinks" on Lifehacker are a good example. It is, of course, a huge step up from IE8, and it's still in beta, so I'm sure we'll see any issues resolved as time goes by. And, as far as regular browsing goes, it's the snappiest IE we've seen yet.
Windows 7-Supported Application Shortcuts
While Chrome became popular for its ability to create "Application Shortcuts" to webapps that you can pin to the taskbar, Microsoft has taken it a step further by partnering with certain web services like Facebook, Twitter, and Pandora to create their own taskbar-docked bookmarks, complete with jumplist support. For example, dragging the Facebook URL from the address bar down to the Taskbar, it will give me a shortcut with a jumplist that can navigate to specific parts of the site, like my News Feed, Profile, or Inbox. Then, when you open it up, it will open in its own window, with all the buttons matching the colour scheme of the site itself.
Arguably one of the cooler features for power users is the Add-On Performance Advisor, which looks at your installed add-ons and tells you which ones are slowing your browser down the most. It doesn't look like you can access this list manually, you have to wait for a popup to appear in your browser, which happens when IE detects a significant slowdown (though you can manually adjust how many seconds an add-on delays your browser before it notifies you). Still, it's a really cool feature, and one I'd kill to see something like this for Firefox and Chrome.
Finally, like Firefox and other popular browsers, Internet Explorer has a nice little window from which you can monitor and manage your downloads. It's not revolutionary, but if you prefer this method to the way IE used to do it (or the way Chrome still does it), it's a pretty welcome change.
Tab management has improved quite a bit in IE9 as well. The biggest change is tab tearing: if you want to separate an open tab into a new window, you can just click and drag it away from the tab bar. It won't reload your page either; so if you're watching a YouTube video it won't start over or anything like that. Plus, since it turns into a window almost instantly, you can drag a tab straight to the side of the screen to invoke Aero Snap. Check out the video above for a quick demonstration.
The new tab page looks a lot like Chrome's, featuring your most recently visited pages. It's not nearly as good-looking as the other ones out there (in fact, it's pretty darn ugly), but it's useful nonetheless.
IE9's also changed the way it gives you notifications. It now acts much more like Chrome or Firefox, sliding up a small panel at the bottom of the browser window with the notification and staying there until you act on it. No longer do you have to click through popup windows or interrupt your browsing before you can act on something—when IE9 has something to tell you, it tells you and stays out of your way until you're ready to act.
Lastly, IE9 has included a tracking protection feature, that lets you limit which sites can track you while you're online. It's an opt-in feature and lets you block sites via a built-in blacklist that you subscribe to—not unlike how AdBlock Plus works on Firefox. For more information on this feature, you can check out Microsoft's blog post on the subject.
Internet Explorer 9 is now available as a free download for Windows. Hit the link below to check it out.