It seems just a blip in time ago that we were hoping for big things from Microsoft's (news, site) Internet Explorer 8, but two years later, a bigger, better, but nicer-playing replacement is already here.

Dressed to the Nines

Windows Vista and Windows 7 users can now download the near-as-final-dammit Release Candidate code for Internet Explorer 9 and try out Microsoft's latest browser. Offering faster browsing, HTML5, CSS3, ECMA5 scripting support and other features, it has dumped the gimmicks of IE8 (did anyone really use Accelerators?) to improve the core browsing experience.

To show off the capabilites, Microsoft has set up to highlight some cool sights and sounds that look better in IE9 for users. Of course, you can visit them in Chrome or Firefox and other browser to play "spot the difference." Developers interested in the browser will find plenty of guidance and advice.

Into the Future

To highlight the forward-looking nature of the browser, it won't run on Windows XP machines. XP users are stuck with IE8 -- perhaps another ploy to push enterprise holdouts toward Windows 7. As part of this future, IE9 includes CSS3 2D Transforms, HTML5 Geolocation, some HTML5 semantic elements and canvas commands.


Search for sites or content is all done in the new One Box

Cosmetic changes include merging the search and navigation bar into one. Tabs can now be moved to their own bar to allow for more to appear without being cramped, and there are other functional changes. Page rendering speed has been improved on the beta and could yet be boosted further before release, but with all browsers now getting their skates on, is this an area where Microsoft should focus?

Trying Times

With five or six major browsers now on the market, Microsoft is not only competing against its own legacy of IE6 but against lots of other nimble players. Windows 7 users can benefit from some of its features such as site pinning and snap, but will users now used to Firefox, Safari, Chrome or Opera really want to go back?

When IE9 starts shipping with new copies of Windows 7 Service Pack, its usage will certainly spike, but until then, it will be interesting to watch how it does in the market where the user picks the browser. We can also expect to see IE9  Mobile hitting Windows Phone 7 devices sooner rather than later.