IE9's final release is Monday. Will it make a difference?

IE9 adoption still hampered by legacy XP systems out there

Microsoft’s Windows Internet Explorer 9 will be officially released to the Web on Monday at the South by Southwest (SXSW) event in Austin, Texas. The new browser touts a number of improvements over IE8 and previous generations, but will it be enough to rebuild IE market share lost to competitors from Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox? There are reasons to be skeptical.

IE9 is entering a browser market of stiff competition from browsers that are also in the process of being beefed up. And Microsoft faces its own internal impediments in that IE9 doesn’t run on the Windows XP operating system, which still runs 55 percent of the computers out there, according to the latest numbers from NetMarketShare. The current Windows 7 OS, that supports IE9, holds only a 23 percent share. While all versions of Internet Explorer combined are the browser market leaders with 56.77 percent share, IE has again slipped below the 60 percent level for the second time in a year, while Firefox and Chrome are gaining with 21.74 percent and 10.93 percent, respectively.

And they both continue to innovate. Google released the first “stable” version of Chrome 10 on Tuesday, the day before Mozilla put out the “release candidate” (RC) version of Firefox 4, the last step before wide release of that new browser. IE9 reached RC status on Feb. 10.

The top browsers seem evenly matched on features, too. When I reported on the new privacy feature in IE9 that lets you prevent Web sites from tracking your browsing activity, in order to deliver targeted ads, one reader pointed out that Firefox has featured tracking protection called AdBlockPlus for about four years (although another reader said that alone may not block tracking).

Browser speed can be a measure of performance, but you can be made dizzy with the corporate spin that comes with those numbers. At the release candidate news conference Microsoft held in San Francisco, Ryan Gavin, Microsoft’s director of Internet Explorer, played a video in which the letters of the alphabet scrolled by while a children’s chorus sang the “Now I know my ABCs...” jingle. IE9 RC completed the task in 3.911 seconds, while it took Google Chrome 9 18.74 seconds. No doubt, the Google people would have been gritting their teeth if any had been in the room.

The people at Softpedia reported Microsoft numbers that show IE9 RC to be the fastest browser with a time of 209 milliseconds (ms), versus Chrome 9’s 238 ms, Opera 11’s 240 ms, Chrome 10 developer version’s 248 ms and Firefox 4.0 Beta 11’s 254 ms. But when you think about it, when the difference between browsers is measured in milliseconds, who gives a care, other than for bragging rights?

It’ll be the features that make an end user choose one or the other. I’ll be tracking the browsing share numbers going forward to see who really wins this race.

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Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.