IE9 piques developer interest at Microsoft PDC

IE6 is still getting stamped out, but developers look forward to IE9

Developers attending Microsoft's PDC event are intrigued by the new capabilities of Internet Explorer 9, even though some of them are just finally getting rid of the ancient IE6.

The IE9 beta has been downloaded 10 million times, and Microsoft today released version 6 of the browser's Platform Preview for developers, stressing "continued commitment to HTML5" as well as "hardware acceleration and site-centric design in Internet Explorer 9 to tap into the power of PC hardware, transforming ... websites to feel more like native Windows applications." While big sites like CNN are already developing interactive web apps for IE9, the average developer probably hasn't built a full application for the browser yet. But that doesn't mean they're not intrigued by Microsoft's vastly upgraded version of Internet Explorer.

"I like the idea of doing the jump lists and being able to pin a website as if it were an icon," says Julian Easterling, a software developer for Marriott International in Bethesda, Maryland.

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During the keynote of the Professional Developers Conference in Redmond, Wash., Microsoft showed several demos of highly graphical and interactive sites built upon IE9.

"It didn't even look like a browser, and I thought that was very powerful," said an impressed Stan Spotts, a developer for SunGard Higher Education.

Development activity for IE9 will greatly increase once Microsoft takes the product out of beta. For now, some customers are still working on getting rid of IE6 and IE7.

Easterling, who works on applications used internally by Marriott, says "we just recently upgraded from IE6 to IE8 earlier this year, rolling it out in production, so we really haven't gotten into IE9 yet."

Ryan Peters, a developer for Kentucky Employers' Mutual Insurance (KEMI), says his team is still running a major internal application on IE7 and wants to make the jump to IE9, particularly as the organization plans to bring the application out to eternal customers. The enhanced JavaScript capabilities and compliance with industry standards are among the impressive features Peters has seen in the developer previews.

"We try to simulate the desktop environment in Internet Explorer, so it's a lot of windows inside of windows type of thing," Peters says. "The GPU (graphics processing unit) performance of IE9 will be a big improvement over what we have with IE7."

While IE9 is available only for Windows 7 and Vista PCs, Peters urged Microsoft to make a version available for Windows XP Service Pack 3.

"With the current economy [some customers] might not be willing to spend the money to upgrade," he said. "It would be nice to have something that is able to run on XP."

However, other developers don't see any problem with Microsoft limiting IE9 to newer operating systems. Microsoft has argued that IE9 takes advantage of hardware acceleration and security features that don't exist on XP machines.

"I think people should wake up and get off of XP," Spotts said. "Frankly Windows 7 gives so many more features and so much more power and usability, that I don't get calls from my father anymore about fixing his machine."

Spotts has even installed Windows 7 on a six-year-old Dell machine that was running XP, and says it ran fine after upgrading the graphics card.

Easterling agrees, saying  "A lot of times backward compatibility from a developer standpoint kills you because you have to go for the least common denominator."

Going forward, Easterling hopes the various browser makers will embrace open standards to improve compatibility across different browsers.

At SunGard, Spotts says his team works on building student information systems that work across multiple browsers. He thinks students will be drawn to the graphical and interactive capabilities of IE9. "A lot of students will be jumping on it and we have to make sure that it works," he says.

Perhaps not surprisingly for a developer attending a Microsoft conference, Spotts is not impressed by Google's Chrome browser, which has rapidly gained share in a market dominated by Internet Explorer and Firefox.

IE9 "has more features," Spotts says. "Google is all about speed but it doesn't take care of the hardware acceleration" like IE9 does.

Easterling also has a low opinion of Chrome, saying it "seems like a beta product." That being said, Easterling's primary browser for personal use is not Internet Explorer but Firefox.

"The other reason I don't use IE is because of the extensive plugins they have for Firefox," he says. "As soon as Adblock comes out for Internet Explorer I'll think about going back to IE."

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