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Internet Explorer 9 review

Verdict

An emphatic improvement by Microsoft's browser, but it doesn't do enough to catch up with its rivals

Review Date: 14 Mar 2011

Reviewed By: Barry Collins

Price when reviewed: Free

Overall Rating
4 stars out of 6

Features & Design
4 stars out of 6

Performance
4 stars out of 6

Ease of Use
4 stars out of 6

The days when Internet Explorer was so dominant that Microsoft could practically dictate web standards are thankfully long past. For the past five years, Microsoft’s browser has been in something of a tailspin, bleeding market share to Firefox and now Chrome. It remains the world’s most used browser, but for how long? And can Internet Explorer 9 do anything to reverse that downward trend?

User interface

The first thing that strikes you about IE9 is the radical interface overhaul. Gone are the multiple taskbars festooned with icons and nary-used features: all that’s on display when you first fire up the browser are the back/forward buttons, address bar, browser tabs and a trio of small buttons for your chosen homepage, favourites and advanced menu options.

If anything, the default IE9 layout is too austere. The browser tabs are squashed in to the right of the address bar: if you have any more than three or four open simultaneously they begin to squash together to the point where the tab titles become unreadable. Microsoft has sensibly included an option to drop the tabs onto a separate row beneath the address bar, but it’s hard to see why it’s resisted the current vogue of placing tabs at the top of the browser window, like Firefox 4 and Chrome.

IE9 tabs

Features

Microsoft, which has stuffed so many questionable features into its browsers over the years (Web Accelerators, anyone?), claims IE9 is “focused on your websites” and has largely resisted the temptation to stuff the browser with any more needless fripperies.

One small innovation is Pinned Sites – the ability to drag a tab onto the Windows 7 taskbar and have it reside there permanently, giving you one-click access to a handful of favourite sites. The browser buttons even adopt the colour scheme of your chosen site. Sites such as streaming radio stations can also build media controls and playlists into the site’s taskbar icon.

IE9 pinned sites

IE9 is also making efforts to thwart the current bête noir of web users: behavioural advertising. Microsoft has worked with leading privacy groups to create a blacklist of online tracking services, which users can switch on from the Safety menu. However, there’s no way for users to add other sites/services to the preset blacklist or block tracking outright (Microsoft claims this would have unwanted consequences, such as preventing embedded YouTube videos from playing).

In our tests, it appeared to prevent some of the more intrusive banner-ad tracking we’ve been subject to on the web, although one travel agent’s adverts appeared to slip through the net.

Standards and compatibility

Perhaps more out of necessity than anything else, Microsoft has finally decided to fully adhere to web standards. Microsoft is trumpeting IE9’s support for HTML5 and CSS 3, and it appears to be paying more than lip service to web standards, scoring 95 out of 100 in the now (somewhat outdated) ACID3 tests.

Rival Mozilla cites Niels Leenheer’s HTML5 Test as evidence that Internet Explorer 9 is yet to implement much of the HTML5 spec, although Microsoft insists it’s only supporting the parts of the wide-ranging spec that are near completion – it’s not due to be finalised until 2014.

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User comments

Not a surprise...

that XP isn't covered in the IE9 release.

XP went into Extended Support a while back, which means that it will only receive security updates, as IE9 isn't a security update, it was never going to appear on XP.

By big_D on 14 Mar 2011

Is this a review of the Release Candidate as it is not mentioned anywhere. Microsoft's website is saying that the release is at 9pm Pacific time today.

By james016 on 14 Mar 2011

@big_D

True, but this shouldn't just be about "supporting XP".

The fact is that XP is still the most widely used OS around, and if you want a modern browser for it, your only options are to ditch IE and turn to Firefox, Chrome or Opera.

From the point of view of boosting IE's market share, this doesn't seem to be an especially prudent decision.

By Trippynet on 14 Mar 2011

IE...

is a free product. If they can push people to upgrade to Windows 7, I suspect Windows 7 marketshare is more important than IE market share.

It also uses a lot of features which aren't available in XP.

We had the same debate with Windows 2000 and Windows 98/95 before it. People who stuck with W2k and didn't want to use the mess that was XP moaned a lot, too, when they couldn't get updates any more.

IE is also an integrated part of the operating system, not an application, which means that it would take a lot of effort to implement that in XP, give them yet another code branch and yet another headache each month, when it comes to patching - probably slowing down the release of patches even more than it currently is.

By big_D on 14 Mar 2011

@james016

On www.beautyoftheweb.com it says "The final version of Internet Explorer 9 will be available beginning 9PM PT on March 14th. See you then!"

By henry20012 on 14 Mar 2011

Call me undemanding!

I'm always reading that IE8 is a real dog, so slow, only good for downloading other browsers blah blah. Yet on this PC I have IE8, Chrome and Opera and the real world performance differences are miniscule. Maybe I'm atypical; I tend to visit IT news sites like this, Newspapers, BBC, weather sites, Autosport but not social networking sites!! I find myself using IE8 most of the time, I guess because I'm used to it and, @Davey Winder, I use the Web Accelerator feature a lot (Chrome has something similar). The only thing that annoys me about IE8 is that the 'Add Favorites' process is too clunky. If they've improved that feature I'll be a happy bunny.

By rjp2000 on 14 Mar 2011

Objective, please!

Real world benchmarks normally have far more persuasion power in a review. Personal preference such as tabbing on top is much better than below address bar should be avoided.

By Numen on 14 Mar 2011

Feedback

Thanks for the comments. To answer a few of the points:

@big_D - Both Chrome and Firefox both support Windows XP with the latest version of their browsers. It's bizarre that Microsoft doesn't do likewise, and to potentially force companies to support two different Microsoft browsers.

@james016 - This review was based on the Release Candidate software, which Microsoft assures us was feature complete.

@Numen - The criticism of the tabs next to the address bar is that it makes the tab labels almost indecipherable when you have more than four or five tabs open. Both of the other major browsers don't have that issue.

Barry Collins

By Barry_Collins on 14 Mar 2011

Reviewing an RC = jumping the shark

You're PC *PRO*. Not RC Pro.

I won't be demo-ing the RC to any of my clients, so let us know when you actually review the finished product.

Next week - the WinFS, and how it's so cool.

By Torquemada on 14 Mar 2011

Try getting the latest Safari on Tiger.

You can't. Likewise Chrome doesn't support PPC and Firefox just stopped supporting PPC with their 4th release (TenFourFox is a good way around this).

It's barmy to complain that it won't be on XP since that OS should really be in the ground by now.

@Torquemada what do you expect to be different between the RC and the final release that so upsets you? Your comparison with WinFs is pathetic.

By windywoo on 15 Mar 2011

@Barry

But Google and Mozilla aren't trying to get people to upgrade from a "defunct" operating system. Microsoft also don't release versions of IE for Linux or OS X (any more, they used to support both, back in the mid 90s).

They made it clear, back in 2008 / 2009, that XP wouldn't be getting any additional features or enhancements, only security updates, so I don't see where the surprise is.

MS is out there to make money. Giving away free products, which run on platforms that don't generate any revenue and increasing their support costs just doesn't make economic sense.

Google and Mozilla have the distinct advantage, that their browsers are funded 100% through search box click through, so they have a motive to reach the widest audience possible. Microsoft generate most of their IE "revenue" through Windows sales.

By big_D on 15 Mar 2011

@big_D - true, XP is on extended support, but that doesn't mean applications should stop supporting it. This isn't an OS feature or bug fix, it is (or at least it should be) a separate application. If Chrome, Opera, Firefox and Safari can continue to support XP, it's difficult to understand what fundamental limitations in the OS prevent it from supporting IE9.

@Trippynet re market share - arguably maybe, but then MS surely cares far more about selling Windows 7 (paid software) than about keeping IE's (free (in the sense of lunch) software) market share up. There will be people using XP who see the lack of a new version of IE as a trigger to upgrade to Windows 7 - if the outcome of the decision to exclude XP from IE9 is that they lose 100 users to Chrome/Firefox etc. for every 1 who migrates to Windows 7 to enjoy the latest browser, that's a good economic trade-off for MS. So maybe the artificial exclusion of XP users is a shrewd, if cynical, move on MS's part to shake the inertia holding back a huge body of XP users from upgrading to W7 and putting dollars in MS's pocket.

By flyingbadger on 15 Mar 2011

Have just downloaded IE9

First impressions;

It works for the sites I've tried but if it is faster, I'm not noticing it.

BUT there are some niggles;

The Favorites button is stuck on the right, no way to change it!

The 'Find on this Page' is now buried on a Tools sub-menu.

There doesn't appear to be any way to customise the Toolbars.

The interface feels a bit like one step forward but two steps back.

By rjp2000 on 15 Mar 2011

@flyingbadger

But that is the whole point of the EU and US legal battles, IE is not a stand alone application, it is an integrated part of XP.

By big_D on 15 Mar 2011

RC Changes

From Microsoft blog: "Some of the changes that RC users will find when upgrading to the final version include:

Fast. We’ve made more performance improvements, especially on low-end machines. For example, we did additional tuning for low-end GPUs, where you will find that the Speed Reading test drive is even faster.

Clean. We’ve improved site pinning with multiple pinned targets per page. Now, a site can offer users the ability to pin a site on another domain. For example, a company with four distinct properties can offer all of them for pinning on one page.

Trusted. We’ve made a variety of improvements to Tracking Protection. For example, we’ve added a link in the product to a gallery of Tracking Protection Lists to improve discoverability, and enabled ActiveX controls like Adobe Flash to participate in Tracking Protection.

Interoperable. We addressed many issues that the community reported (for example, in SVG text anchoring and WOFF font embedding) to enable the same markup to work consistently across browsers."
So I think a review of the real thing - not just the RC would be a good idea. And really your review should have made it clear it was a review of the RC.

By jmiii on 15 Mar 2011

@windywoo, sorry I thought it was obvious

Because after all, MS release candidates are totally identical to the final releases, right?

My point was that reviewing RC's as if they're the final product fools no-one, makes the publication look desperate/ amateur, and helps no-one.

It's your attitude that's pathetic :-)

By Torquemada on 15 Mar 2011

XP

Those who moan about no XP support must be living on another planet, the simple fact is that it is not far off from being a decade since it was released so the idea MS will carry on supporting older OSes isn't going to happen.

By Embattled on 15 Mar 2011

I agree that the UI has taken the minimalism obsession to an unnecessary extreme. I also really dislike how the new menu is organised - some items just appear to be placed in a random place e.g. what have "Full screen view", "Find on this page", "suggested sites" or "caret browsing" got to do with files or filing?

As for your comment on Web Accelerators, I find this feature extremely useful (if implemented in a bit of a clunky way). A clean install of Firefox is in desperate need of some IE Accelerator-like functionality IMO.

By broccauley on 16 Mar 2011

Internet Explorer 9

I have just upgraded from Internet Explorer 8 to version 9. My experience so far is that it works substantially faster. One has to get used to some changes of the favourite tool bar and also the pop ups at the bottom of the page instead of the top, but those are minor issues. Overall I am very impressed and pleased with this new release.

By gerko on 16 Mar 2011

@big_D - true, IE was integrated into XP, but it needn't be. There is no inherent magic to the integration; no technical reason why it had to be so. I suspect the work required to make IE9 work with XP would have been trivial for MS, and it wouldn't surprise me if some clever soul botched together a hack that would let IE9 run on XP. As you have stated, the real reason for the removal of XP compatibility is likely to be to send a message to the mass of XP users to say "c'mon guys, XP is nearly 10 years old and there's now a viable replacement in Windows 7 (unlike Vista, which was arguably inferior to XP in many ways), so now's time to put your hand in your pocket and upgrade".

By flyingbadger on 16 Mar 2011

I'm going to add to what I just said - another reason is that if MS made IE9 officially XP compatible, it (MS) would need to support users who had trouble with getting IE9 working properly on XP. I suspect it's technically very easily doable and someone will hack it together quite quickly, but MS doesn't have to suppor that.

By flyingbadger on 16 Mar 2011

@big_D

"They made it clear, back in 2008 / 2009, that XP wouldn't be getting any additional features or enhancements, only security updates, so I don't see where the surprise is.

I would certainly consider IE9 a "security update".

By pentlands on 16 Mar 2011

IE9 compatibility problems

I installed a release candidate version of IE9 (I use Win7) about 3 weeks ago.
Applications or services that failed to run under this include Yahoo Mail and Yahoo Messenger. the MS help system was totally useless and in the end I sought advice from the Yahoo help service, who gave me the directions I needed to successfully uninstall IE9 and go back to IE8.
I now use IE8 and Chrome, though my use of Crhome has been hit by the Flash crashing issue I have met over the past couple of days. God old IE8 still works fine, albeit more slowly than some!
When I am sure that IE9 is going to run what I need, and that I can get real-world support from the MS system, I'll look to update. Until then, I'll keep my cocktail of IE8 and Chrome

By kimfikry on 17 Mar 2011

@pentlands

No, security updates don't add any new features... XP won't get any more updates for features to IE, it will just get updates for IE8 (and for a little while IE7) which fix severe security flaws.

By big_D on 17 Mar 2011

@Barry_Collins

Actually, your incorrect about the whole needing the tabs above/below the address bar thing.

You can click and drag the divider between the tabs and address bar, thus enlarging the tabs. I actually like this ALOT more, as it saves space and removes clutter, giving me a better cleaner view of the website I'm browsing.

By DriftRS on 17 Mar 2011

Find on this Page

rjp2000
I have a little dot of tippex on the F3 key to get 'Find on this Page'.
Or if you want the buttons back in IE9 just right click and put a tick in 'Command Bar'.

By johnt on 17 Mar 2011

@rjp2000

Normally one would use 'Ctrl + F' to find things on the page. so it does not matter where it's located.

By henry20012 on 17 Mar 2011

@kimfikry

I had the same problem, you can still use IE9 with yahoo if you turn the compatiblity mode one, then Yahoo Mail works just fine.

By henry20012 on 17 Mar 2011

IE9 - wish I hadn't installed

I previously tried a beta version and uninstalled it. The release 64bit on 64bit windows 7 seems slower than IE 8. Poor interface and cludgy page loading. Keep thinking it's crashed.

By richardirwin on 17 Mar 2011

Blue Screen of Death

Interesting the 1st Blue Screen with Windows 7 comes after installing IE9. Co-incidence?

By richardirwin on 17 Mar 2011

A word of warning..

I installed IE9 on Windows 7 64-bit. It installed and ran with no problems - apart from finding where things are now, of course. Unfortunately, one of the sites I use regularly uses Silverlight, which does not work on the 64-bit IEs. On IE8, I used the 32-bit for this reason. Now, however, the installation process doesn't allow the user to install the 32-bit version with a 64-bit OS. I decided to download IE8 again, but the installation refuses to work on Windows 7.
There are a few things still to try, but it's a good job that I've also got Chrome..

By bobbillington on 17 Mar 2011

32-bit working here...

I have the 64-bit version as well, but 32-bit was installed and is still working.

By big_D on 17 Mar 2011

Update...

@Bob Billington

32-bit was pinned to my taskbar. The icon in the Startmenu had lost its association...

Clicking on the unassociated link in the start menu and searching in c:\Programme(x86)\Internet Explorer for iexplore.exe (I assume C:\Program Files(x86) on an English language Windows machine) had it back up and working.

It looks like the 32-bit link got disassociated when I uninstalled the RC and didn't get properly re-associated when I installed the final version.

Might be worth checking, to see if that was your problem.

By big_D on 17 Mar 2011

Its just Chrome by another name

I use browsers all day and always look forward to a new one.

So after a few days:
- It's just a rip-off Chrome
- It might be faster, not sure, but I never thought Chrome was slow. The speed increase hasn't affected me.
- It doesn't offer anything useful or obvious.

Perhaos there's oodles of new "sexy" techie stuff but for normal day-to-day browsing i.e. most of the people for most of the time, it's just the same as before. I'll stick with Chrome.

It feels like browser technology has peaked and everything is just me-too. Surely someone can come up with something new and innovative. I hope so!

By sixhundred on 17 Mar 2011

@bobbillington

I can only assume you downloaded IE9 from somewhere other than Microsoft in order to get just the 64bit version.

Microsoft asks which OS you are running. If you select Windows 7, 32 bit (or Vista 32 bit) they download only the 32 bit version of IE9. If You select Windows 7, 64bit, you get both the 32bit and 64bit versions, with the 32 bit version set as your default.

There's a Q & A on 64bit IE8 (still valid for IE9) at http://blogs.msdn.com/b/ieinternals/archive/2009/0
5/29/q-a-64-bit-internet-explorer.aspx

By chapelgarth on 17 Mar 2011

Browser Speed

Strange how browser speed suddenly became irrelevant as soon as Internet Explorer became faster than Chrome.

By chapelgarth on 17 Mar 2011

IE9 on XP

Most users of IE6 are in corporate environments where the users cannot make changes to the systems. Reason IE6 is still used is due to the intranet/internal sites that were written for it and no-one is interested in spending money to re-write for other browsers - at least this seems to be the consensus of opinion.

Therefore, whether it's trivial or difficult to make IE9 to run on XP, why bother?
Those system admins didn't upgrade to IE7 or IE8, why are they going to incorporate IE9 all of a sudden?

Other XP users that might want to install IE9 will miss out, yes - but as pointed out, MS would rather they upgraded to W7 anyway.

Compatibility for XP will only add further support costs to MS, it can hardly be a great surprise, really. Got to stop backwards compatibility at some point - otherwise, what about earlier versions of Windows. I still have a machine running W98 - don't use it much admittedly, but it still works.

By greemble on 31 Mar 2011

Browser Speed

@chapelgarth. Now you mention it, so it seems
- odd that...

By greemble on 31 Mar 2011

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