The ‘Beauty of the Web’ in the eye of the beholder

The challenges and the opportunities of IE 9

Tomorrow, I’ll be in San Francisco for Microsoft’s launch event for the beta version of Internet Explorer 9, which is competing with Microsoft’s Phone 7 for buzz in the tech world these days. For those of you unable to make the event, you can watch it online.

Microsoft has dubbed this event a celebration of the “Beauty of the Web.” So, what would make the Web more beautiful? For me, it would be a Web browser that works the way browsers work in the commercials, or in any number of TV shows and movies. Jack Bauer on “24” was about the only character on TV who actually had browser or network problems, as in “Dammit, Chloe, I need those floor plans for the warehouse!” “Jack! It’s still downloading!” For everyone else, their browsers and other computer systems always work flawlessly.

Like the exchange student in Germany using Windows 7 to download videos from his computer back in America, I want my browser to responded instantly. I’ve always wondered if anyone has done a study that calculates the total amount of hours over the average Windows PC user’s lifetime that they spent looking at an hourglass? I’ve never seen anyone on a TV commercial or a show open a Web page, see the word “Done” in the lower left corner of the browser window but see a big chunk of the content obviously missing from the page.

And for God’s sake, Microsoft, stop asking me, “Do you want to view only the Web page content that was delivered securely?” Just deliver it all securely, please.

From early reports, Microsoft is going to deliver a faster browser. As PC World’s Todd Bradley and others have reported, IE 9 passes the “acid test,” specifically, the Acid3 benchmarking score that measures how quickly a browser downloads Web pages. The fourth preview version of IE 9 achieved an Acid3 score of 95, versus a pitiful 20 for IE 8. This result is due in part to the secret sauce Microsoft has added to IE 9, a new JavaScript engine, codenamed Chakra, that runs natively in the browser.

Also key to IE 9’s performance is hardware acceleration, which leverages the graphics processing unit (GPU) to deliver Web pages faster than with just the CPU. This page from the IEBlog shows how hardware acceleration works to more quickly deliver the different elements that make up a Web page. From the looks of it, Microsoft has heard my complaint about incomplete Web pages that are declared “Done.”

But of course, it’s not enough for IE to beat IE in benchmarking, IE 9’s gotta beat the competitors that have come along in recent years and knocked IE’s total browser market share down to 60 percent from north of 90 -- namely, Google’s Chrome and Mozilla’s Firefox. They’re also upgrading their browsers and they are aiming to chew away even more at IE’s market share lead. Microsoft today posted a tutorial on Web browser benchmarks, also on its IEBlog, listing a total of seven benchmarks with names like Celtic Kane, Web Kit SunSpider and FishIE Tank. Don’t be surprised if backers of each of the major browsers scour each of those benchmarks for the results that make their browser look best.

I’ll be posting again tomorrow from the IE 9 event on how beautiful the Web turns out to be,

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