Microsoft has released the RC version of Internet Explorer 9. The RC version of IE9 comes on the heels of Google's Chrome 9, released earlier this week.
Chrome 9 fixed a bunch of security holes, but it now also includes built-in support for WebGL, a 3D graphics rendering engine being pushed by Google and, so far, not supported by Internet Explorer. WebGL is based on the OpenGL ES 2.0 API, which is an alternative to Microsoft’s Direct3D, an API that has become the de facto standard for PC gaming.
Microsoft is pushing back by pointing out that IE9 supports H.264-encoded video for HTML5, whereas Google dropped support for the codec in Chrome to favor of a new option, the VP8 codec. Google acquired VP8 when it bought On2 Technologies in 2009 and then donated the VP8 codec into the public domain as part of the WebM Project.
Aside: Chrome pushes out its latest stable release to all users automatically. Chrome 9 was updated on my Windows 7 PC this week and it was nice to play with Google's WebGL experimental sites to see it in action. But it has been crashing like mad. Reminds me of the earlier iterations of Firefox 3, which was a pretty miserable experience.
H.264 is, in contrast, owned by the MPEG-LA consortium and although it doesn’t charge royalties for its use today, it reportedly plans to start doing so in 2015. Mind you, such royalties would be covered by RAND (Reasonable and Nondiscriminatory Royalties), so they would be a uniform low-cost and use of H.264 could not be denied to any vendor. The H.264 codec is light, fast, polished and well-supported, even by Apple. But Google is trying to use its might to shun use of it, in favor of its own, albeit donated, technology. And from a developer's point of view, no royalties is the ideal situation.
IE9 adds some cool features, some of which play catch up to other browsers (searching via the URL bar, tear-off tabs) and others that are new, (built-in developer tools including debugging, Windows 7-like jump lists).
Expect Microsoft to bang its drum that IE9 preserves users' privacy better than the rest. The privacy messaging has been ramping up steam since January, at CES, when Dean Hachamovitch, the Microsoft VP who oversees IE development, showed up on stage to the All Things Digital CES event wearing a T-shirt that said "private."
To that end, Microsoft says that IE9 is the only browser out there that lets users control whether certain third parties can track your browsing activity. That's a good way for Microsoft to compete in this next stage of browser wars ... if it turns out to be 100% true. Note that Microsoft was one of a handful of big companies recently named in a lawsuit for working with behavioral advertising specialist Interclick. Interclick is accused of allegedly using ads from Microsoft, McDonald's and others, "as a cover for data-mining, to identify the Websites people visit, invading people's privacy, misappropriating their personal information and interfering with the operations of their computers."
Most importantly, perhaps IE9 will render IE6-optimized sites well enough that corporate users can finally move their companies off the ancient buggy browser and onto an option with far better security, and possibly, better privacy, too. With the SP1 versions of Windows 7 and WS2008 R2 to arrive February 22, corporations may be ready to retire those aging machines that keep IE6 from dying once and for all.
Here's the link to more info on IE9 features and to download the RC.