Next week will see the release if Internet Explorer 9. But despite the invitable fanfare from the massive PR machine at Microsoft does this new release really represent something groundbreaking or is it too-little, too-late? We're going to explore what's new in IE9 to see what's really on the horizon.
Where is the web going?
As Internet Explorer loses browser-market share developers and designers have been bolstered by the emerging big-player's desire to bring forth standardisation. This approach is necessary because what the internet is, in essence, is moving so dramatically from the collection of static text that it was fifteen years ago to the fluid conversation of content, images, video and audio that it is today.
What's more dramatic perhaps is that it has escaped the confines of the conventional browser. Content is now created and consumed on devices like mobiles and TVs through bespoke apps that are not confined to an HTML environment.
What new features are important?
For a year now we've been plotting the progress of HTML5 and CSS3 development and standardisation. We've broken these new features down into a couple of slightly arbitrary sections:
- CSS3 - Browser capabilities that allow designers to describe design more simply.
- Embedded Content - Audio & video content and in-browser drawing.
- Web Applications - New tools for complex services like on-line mail.
- Forms - New models for accepting user input in an organised, accessible way.
Eye on the prize...
What is so sad about the new IE9 release is that Microsoft have, it seems, concentrated most of their effort on two things:
- CSS3 Selectors
What the update completely fails to address are those items of functionality that are actually quite hard to address without native browser support that would have a real impact on the lives of users, designers and developers;
- CSS3 Properties
Many of which would ubiquitous (and therefore useful) if Microsoft would support them.
- Web Applications
Features that would make a practical difference to their user's experience and which again often have full support from Opera, Webkit & Mozilla.
- HTML5 Form Controls
Features that provide more than the basic set of form controls which otherwise hasn't changed since the Internet Explorer 1.
Why these changes?
It seems apparent to me both from the choice of developmental direction and the tone of the IE9 Preview site that the concentration has been squarely focused on wowing the media and has entirely ignored both the development community and their user base.
The elephant in the room.
Finally, yes, I haven't forgotten the elephant in the room: IE6. Whether Microsoft has oganised themselves into a strategy that does anything about the stalwarts still using IE6 remains to be seen. It seems there is some doubt the IE9 release will have any effect at all.
What I would be interested to know is will those people who do move away from IE6 do so towards a new version of IE - in which case why have they not done so already - or will they move to a new browser all together.
Is Microsoft leading or lingering?
Well they're lingering aren't they? Our browser support charts show this quite clearly.
There is not a single feature where Internet Explorer trumps another browser and yet there are dozens of quite important features where Microsoft fails to meet otherwise universal support.
Furthermore most of the ticks that are appearing in the IE9 column can be made to appear with a Explorer Canvas and Selectivizr making, in my opinion, a bit of a mockery of the whole release and certainly no demonstrable difference to anyone who's not benchmarking their PC.
The truth of IE9
This new browser seems entirely focused therefore on demonstrating that a bit of hardware acceleration makes all the difference without addressing the key IE problems that the wider comunity complains about so vehemently and so constantly.
IE9 will, I predict, become derided by developers just as all the other itterations have and Microsoft will continue to lose market share to Apple, Google and Mozilla.
IE9 itself will be shown for what it really is; ego rubbing and a few rather irrelevant benchmarks.