internet explorer 8
With Microsoft (news, site) rebounding like Dennis Rodman in his prime, can the company pull another Windows 7 or Windows 7 Phone out of its hat with IE9?

Exploring New Frontiers

Internet Explorer has had a rough ride since, well, forever. Most versions have been considered an assault on Internet standards, or derided as under-featured or security nightmares. The recent versions have improved on those areas but added features that few actually use.

With existing IE now lagging behind Firefox which is the most popular browser, where can Microsoft go with IE9? The news from Microsoft's  MIX10 developer conference in Las Vegas is that Internet Explorer won't just be a browser, but a whole platform.

There's a test drive site, where you can download a preview mini-browser for Windows Vista or Windows 7 users (nothing like a proper beta or test version) that allows you to take a look at some of the features in action.

According to Microsoft, the intent of the platform preview is to provide developers an opportunity to start planning when and how they will start supporting HTML5; this is definitely not suited for your everyday browsing needs.

A Platform to Where?

The primary addition is the implementation of DirectX hardware acceleration, something that really should have been in place for many years. Now, the horsepower of the typical PC's video card can finally be used to hoof along your graphical output and improve quality, allowing accelerated video, faster and smoother text effects and other essentials of the Web 2.0 environment.

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One of the demos showing off IE9's features

HTML 5 support will be the next big arms race as browsers throw it to the top of their features lists and Microsoft has it as a big tick in IE9. With support including CSS3, Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) which has been around for ages, XHTML parsing and H.264/MPEG4 and MP3/AAC tags and  codec support, all video standards will be supported.

If you can't wait for IE9 to get a little HTML 5 love, take a look at Christian Adams video tag for IE.

Additional news includes a boost for JavaScript processing speeds. With all its rivals crowing about their Java performance, it is only fair that Microsoft gets in on the act and brings its browser up to speed.

In the Background

Behind the web page, Microsoft also announced that it will contribute to the development of new features and enhancements in the jQuery JavaScript Library. It has shared the release of new SDKs for the Open Data Protocol that will make it easier for developers to access cloud-based data from to create cross-platform Web applications.

Developers are encouraged to use the Platform Preview Version on their own code, HTML, CSS, scripts and feedback on how it works. There are more details on the ieblog.

Microsoft has stated that a new version of the IE9 Platform Preview should come out about every 8 weeks, and there are no dates set for the beta release.