Microsoft has released the beta for its next generation browser, Internet Explorer 9.
Aside from the already announced support for HTML5 and hardware accleration, Microsoft unveiled a clean new user interface, clever Windows 7 interface, and new security tools.
The user interface was stripped down to leave sites front and central. “From our point of view, the browser is the stage,” said head of IE Dean Hachamovitch at the launch event in San Francisco. “Sites on the web are the stars of the show.”
The browser was intergrated with Windows 7, to take advantage of the tools in the operating system.
Hachamovitch noted that 33 percent of Windows users had pinned something to the taskbar, but just 4 percent had added anything to the favourites list.
He claimed that 40 percent used Aero Snap to view windows side by side, but just nine percent had more than eight tabs open at once. “There are huge gaps in usage patterns,” he said.
With that in mind, IE9 users would be able to pin sites directly to the taskbar in Windows 7, so pages could be accessed without opening the browser first.
IE9 also allowed websites to create 'jumplists', so users could go directly to tasks via the site - such as sending an email, accepting a friend invite, or going directly to a news story - without working their way through the site's interface first.
Such sites would also pull in notifications, alerting users to messages directly through the OS.
Another new tool was the 'One Box', which kept track of sites visited to make site suggestions as users type -- without automatically sending that data to a search engine, Microsoft noted, taking a bit of a dig at rival Google. "The address bar is respectful of privacy," he said.
As previously announced, IE9 supported hardware accleration, with its Chakra engine leveraging multicore CPUs. Microsoft claimed to be the first to use full HTML 5 hardware acceleration, using the GPU for graphics processing - a goal Chrome and Firefox were both working on.
Microsoft also highlighted the HTML5 support, showing off a host of websites created by partners.
The company also claimed to have sorted out the 'back' button, so users navigating within a site's own inbuilt tabs would also be able to use the browser controls without confusing matters - a revelation that won applause from developers in the crowd.
Microsoft said the browser was not just cleaner and faster, but safer. A new download manager tool, SmartScreen filter, looked for malware in files, showing a warning only when necessary rather than popping up warning windows for all downloads.
Files known to be safe would simply be downloaded, saving users from getting "fatigue" and blindly approving everything.
Hachamovitch said the "application reputation" was a nice way to describe "stranger danger for downloads". When the system asked users if they were sure about a file, "it is very clear and uses human language to explain the risks," he said.
IE9 also brought an 'Add-On Performance Adviser' to let users know when add-ons were slowing down the browser. "It makes it very clear what’s going on, and what the user can do,” Hachamovitch said, adding that 75 percent of all IE crashes were caused by add-ons.
The new version also included tab isolation as well as crash and hang recovery.