Internet Explorer 9 review

14 Mar 2011

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

4

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.

Details

Price ex VAT £0
Price inc VAT £0
Overall rating 4
Ease of Use rating 4
Features & Design 4
Software subcategory Web browser

Operating system support

Operating system Windows Vista supported? yes
Operating system Windows XP supported? no
Operating system Linux supported? no
Operating system Mac OS X supported? no
Other operating system support none