Internet Explorer 9 Beta Next – New IE9 Builds Every 8 Weeks

Next update mid-May 2010

While Beta is the next major development milestone for Internet Explorer 9, the development process will advance to that stage through a series of interim builds scheduled for release at 8 week intervals. It is an immense step forward for Microsoft in terms of transparency and how the company now communicates the evolution of Internet Explorer, which started at PDC 2009 and continued at MIX10 earlier this week. The Windows Internet Explorer Platform Preview v1. is available for download as of March 16th, and IE9 will continue to be in Platform Preview stage until it will graduate to Beta. The next IE9 Platform Preview Build is scheduled for mid-May 2010, per the software giant’s release schedule, more than enough time to take Build out for a spin.

“The Internet Explorer Platform Preview is a light-weight frame around the core IE platform which includes the rendering and layout, object model, parsing, and script engines. It’s a way to try out the platform, and the experience improvements we’re making to performance, standards support and interoperability, enabling “the same markup” to work,” promised Justin Saint Clair, IE program manager. “This is the first Platform Preview. We will update it approximately every 8 weeks on the road to Beta. Each update will provide a more complete look at the IE9 platform. The Platform Preview along with these updates and the reporting tools are designed to speed up the feedback loop between developers and the IE platform.”

As is the case with any platform, IE9 too has many layers. The Platform Preview is by no means a full browser, lacking fundamental functionality at this point in time, and a complete graphical user interface for that manner. Deploying it into a production environment or using it to replace a current browser are not valid options. There’s no address bar, no information bar, no Tabbed browsing, no security features and no standard UI elements or functionality such as Back and Forward buttons. Navigating without them is a real pain.

But more importantly, Internet Explorer 9 is, at least for the time being, unlike any other browser out there, not even IE8. I’ve already run it across a series of websites, and of course, came across compatibility problems. But, this early in the development process, web and platform incompatibility issues are inherently expected. As the browser will move closer to Beta, IE9 will also play increasingly nicer with modern web standards, and rest assured, it will not break the web when it comes out.

“We designed the Platform Preview to be installed, side by side with IE8. The Platform Preview is not a replacement for your daily browser; for example, the Preview does not have an address bar, a back button, anti-phishing or malware protection. The Platform Preview does include debugging and diagnostics tools for developers. It also includes a way to provide feedback. The top level menus include Report Issue,” Saint Clair added.

Users of Windows 7 RTM and Windows Vista can download and install IE9 Platform Preview alongside IE8, run the two browser versions in parallel and test drive the latest release. Vista customers will need to first make sure that they have upgraded to Service Pack 2 (SP2) and also deployed the Platform Update for Windows Vista to get access to DirectX 11 technologies, but also other components of Windows 7. IE9 doesn’t run on Windows XP SP3, or on any Windows release preceeding Vista SP2 for that matter.

“We ask that developers download and test drive the IE9 Platform Preview. We welcome feedback on how the Platform Preview works with your HTML, CSS, script, and other markup,” Saint Clair said. “Some developers may already have sites that use the new capabilities. Other developers may write sample code to test out the functionality. In either case, we’d like to hear about your experience with the new features. Where possible, we’ve documented any known issues along with available workarounds in the Release Notes.”

Of course, it is imperative to note that Microsoft is welcoming feedback on IE9 Platform Preview as it makes its way to the Beta development milestone. “We will release beta of Internet Explorer 9 when feedback from the Platform Preview releases indicates we have a high-quality Web platform that can be used for everyday browsing of the Web,” the company stated.

Chakra, the new JavaScript engine in Internet Explorer 9

Despite various rumors and suggestions that Microsoft will adopt WebKit as the rendering engine for IE9, this proved not to be the case. Of course, the software giant denied such a possibility even when it was otherwise mute on IE9, and naturally, Trident continues to be at the core of IE. But, IE9 does introduce Chakra, a new JavaScript engine, which will allow end users to take full advantage of the continuous growth in popularity of Cloud-based applications leveraging JS, AJAX, script libraries, etc.

“The IE9 Platform Preview includes the first release of our new JavaScript engine, codenamed Chakra, which fundamentally changes the performance characteristics of JavaScript inside Internet Explorer 9. Chakra includes a new JavaScript compiler that compiles JavaScript source code into high-quality native machine code, a new interpreter for executing script on traditional web pages, and improvements to the JavaScript runtime and libraries,” explained Shanku Niyogi, general manager, JavaScript team.

IE9 Platform Preview Build is already faster than Firefox 3.7 Alpha 2 and Firefox 3.6 Final in terms of the pure JS execution speed as measured by WebKit’s SunSpider benchmark. At the same time, IE9 is also extremely close to Opera 10.50, Chrome 5.0, Chrome 4.0 and Safari 4.0.5, this while Dean Hachamovitch, general manager, Internet Explorer, underlined that Microsoft had yet to optimize the browser for SunSpider.

“The steady rise of JavaScript performance in browsers leads to an obvious question: just how fast can JavaScript in the browser run? We know from measurements in the programming languages space that JavaScript is still limited in execution performance compared to C++ or statically typed languages. But code compilation, dynamic type inference and other innovations have enabled JavaScript to close that gap considerably,” Niyogi stated.

The promise from Microsoft is that as IE9 advances into Beta phase and beyond, additional script performance optimizations will be introduced. The promise from Microsoft is that the tune-up will improve the compiler, type system, libraries, but also additional facets of the runtime, with an emphasis on memory management and DOM interoperability.

“We will also work on other dimensions of performance, such as memory usage and power consumption. The script engines of tomorrow will be judged how well they tune their performance across all these dimensions, across the entire Web. We will also need the JavaScript language and runtime to evolve to meet the growing needs of developers and users. That’s why we are also working with other JavaScript engine implementers in the ECMA Script committee to evolve JavaScript in a responsible way that maintains compatibility with today’s Web, and meets the needs of tomorrow’s HTML5 applications,” Niyogi revealed.

Embracing modern web standards

A point is yet to be reached which would allow developers to write code once and have it work seamlessly across all browsers. However, with IE9, Hachamovitch stressed that Microsoft’s work on web standards interoperability was focused on having HTML, script, and formatting markup work the same across all browsers. This task is that much harder as some standards are still emerging, or in incomplete draft form. Browser vendors often chose what to implement and what to ignore, covering different aspects of standards compared to one another. In addition, there is a lack of consensus in this regard, as vendors that settle over supporting the same standards can produce different implementations from one another.

As far as IE9 is concerned, Hachamovitch made it clear that a goal was to aim for as high as possible a score in the Acid3 Test. The Platform Preview is currently at 55 out of 100. “Some people use Acid3 as a shorthand for standards. Acid3 tests about 100 details of a dozen different technologies. Some are still in “under construction.” Some of the patterns, like SMIL animations, are inconsistent with other parts of HTML5, like CSS3 animations, and need to be reconciled,” the IE GM said.

IE9 Platform Preview already features support for HTML5, CSS3, DOM, and SVG, although not yet for HTML5 <video> which is coming in a future update. “At this time, we’re looking for developer feedback on our implementation of HTML5’s parsing rules, Selection APIs, XHTML support, and inline SVG. Within CSS3, we’re looking for developer feedback on IE9’s support for Selectors, Namespaces, Colors, Values, Backgrounds and Borders, and Fonts. Within DOM, we’re looking for developer feedback on IE9’s support for Core, Events, Style, and Range,” Hachamovitch revealed.

In parallel with the work done on Internet Explorer 9, the Redmond company is also working on the web standards. On the same day that it launched the Platform Preview, Microsoft also made available more than 100 tests of HTML5, CSS3, DOM, and SVG to the W3C, on top of the test it had already submitted.

Multi-core CPU and hardware-acceleration optimizations

Internet Explorer 9 is a browser designed for modern computers and the latest Windows operating system. As multi-core processor machines become the norm, and as graphics cards embrace DirectX 11, IE9 will take advantage of both to increase performance. It will be the Chakra JS engine to benefit from multi-core CPUs, spreading the load across the processor cores, a move which is bound to deliver more speed compared to single-threaded apps.

“IE9 includes a fast interpreter for running pages quickly on startup. For compilation, we have a background code generator that compiles script code, and we push compiled methods back into the application. Because the code generator runs in the background, it can take advantage of today’s advanced multi-core machines and generate higher-quality code, while not blocking initial execution of the application,” Niyogi stated.

But there’s more to taking advantage of hardware advances than multi-core. There’s a reason why IE9 doesn’t work on Windows XP, and that is GPU-powered HTML5, which needs DirectX 11 and a DX11 capable graphics card. What IE9 does is leverage the Direct2D and DirectWrite APIs in DX11 in order to accelerate graphics and text being rendered and displayed on the screen by using the GPU, which would otherwise be latent. In the tests made public by the Redmond company, IE9 successfully leaves rival browsers in the dust when it comes to running the same HTML, script, and markup, delivering a higher level of responsiveness and a superior number of frames per second. “IE9 is the first browser to provide fully hardware-accelerated SVG support. The IE9 developer tools support SVG as well, and we are excited to see what developers build on top of modern hardware with a platform that has great performance and internal consistency,” Hachamovitch added.

Internet Explorer 9 (IE9) Beta

No telling, as of yet, when exactly Microsoft plans to release the first Beta development milestone for Internet Explorer 9. Considering the progress made from the first demo of the browser and the MIX10 Platform Preview, I suspect that users will see IE9 Beta later this year. I will also go out on a ledge (not really) and say that IE9 Beta will be a fully functional browser, complete with a GUI, and not just the core platform as the preview made available. The evolution to Beta will also mean a higher Acid3 Test score, I’m willing to bet that Microsoft will cross at least the 70/100 mark, if not even higher. The Beta is also bound to deliver a superior JavaScript execution speed, and to pass Safari on the SunSpider benchmark. I dare say that IE9 Beta will be on par with Google Chrome.

Of course, users should keep in mind that this is all speculation on my part, and that Microsoft has not confirmed anything at this point in time.

Internet Explorer 9 (IE9) Platform Preview is available for download here.

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