The final version of IE9 came out on Monday and I've been putting it through its paces the last few days. I've watched the browser develop since the first platform preview last year and have liked what I've seen. I didn't expect the final version to be perceptibly better than the RC (Release Candidate), and have been nicely surprised that it is better - more stable, faster. Overall, if you run Windows 7 as your OS, aren't afflicted with Microsoft hatred, and aren't obsessed with having a bazillion widgets, plug-ins and add-ons, you should use this as your primary browser. The reasons I like it aren't really the BS that the chattering heads in TechnoNewz land like to yammer about.
The thing I like best, which should come as no surprise given that I support government enterprise systems and am part of a security team, is the built in security and privacy tools. It matters that these are baked into the browser itself and not haphazardly plugged in. The programming team at MS has gone head-to-head with the sales & marketing bastards and won some incredibly important rounds.
- SmartScreen filter, which looks for bogus and malware infested sites and warns you about them, prompts you upon install to turn it on. A lot of FUD has been spewed that this is "spyware" by MS, mostly by people who don't understand what the thing is doing. It is a dynamically updated list of questionable sites along with hueristics that identify patterns of newly encountered sites to flag them for suspicious content. This was in IE8.
- Tracking Protection, which was previously labeled the very unhelpful "InPrivate Filter", a name slected by the goons in marketing to hide the importance of this function. Long story short, it blocks shit people want to stick on your machine, be it ads, scripts, or what have you. It is bascially NoScript and Ad Block for Firefox rolled into one (with one exception) and built into the machine. You do have to turn it on, which is the spanner the ad people have tried to throw into the works. It is faster and easier to use than either FF add-on.
- Active X Filtering, otherwise known as Flash killer. Turn it on and it applies to all sites at all times. Use the little blue crossed circle in the address bar to enable it for a site or just turn it on and turn it off once you've viewed a movie. Ad Block does this if you have it loaded in Firefox. I like AB's functionality - it's more fine grained and allows selecting particular elements on a page - but this built in feature on IE9 is much less cumbersome to use.
- Trusted/Restricted sites have been there since IE6, but they now interact (along with Protected Mode and the Privacy tab) with the newer security features much more smoothly.
- InPrivate browsing is an added level of goodness when I need to use a site which asks for financial and personal data. It was in IE8, too.
After working with the One Box (gag, the marketing bozos worked overtime on that name) where addresses and searches get entered together, I'm reluctantly acknowledging that it's an OK thing to use. I still prefer a separate search box and would like an option to enable one. What is important to me about the combined search box is I can control whether my information goes to Bing (or whatever search engine) or whether I just go directly to my web site. The single box on Chrome sends your information to Google first for their database, then delivers you to your site. The refresh and stop buttons are too small for my liking.
Tabs on the same row as the address bar was weird at first but now I like it. I can tear tabs off into their own windows and recombine them, which satisfies my need for tab room. Since browsing with a few dozen open tabs (mostly by people who can't figure out bookmarks) is a fast way to a pwnd browser - not to mention shitty performance - I'm not swayed by howls of indignation that IE won't allow multi-rows of tabs.
The favorites bar (I guess I'm one of the few people in the world who actually likes and uses bookmarks. Go figure.) is awkwardly placed on the right if you just click the Favorites star in the upper right, but it pins to the left where it belongs. The behavior of this bar is disconcerting and needs work as it is still too clunky. I turn off the menu bar anyway, so am unfazed by having to right-click to reveal it again. I NEVER use any fucking add-in search tool bars (Not Google, not I MSN, not Bing, not Yahoo, nada. You really are wasting space and time if you use any of them.) so just enable the Favorites bar (three web page choices, seach, BBC and a personal site) and the Command bar, which I fill up with the buttons I use - home, print, Internet Options, Manage Add-ons, Secuity, InPrivate browsing and the RSS feed button. I also turn on the Status bar (mouse over title area, right-click, click Status Bar) so I have the magnifying button available at all times.
Pinned sites have no interest for me since I use bookmarks and InPrivate. Bleh. Overhyped by the marketing bastards.
Yeah, it's fast and, yeah, it's standards compliant. For example, I went through the CSS in this blog site and stripped out all of the proprietary vendor prefixed styles, plus removed a command that forced rendering under IE to IE7 mode. My blog now looks great under IE9 and blah under the rest. It also allows me to click back into older rendering modes if I encounter a site that won't behave. But, honestly, I'm really not impressed by the speed demon, who can slice the miliseconds thinnest attitude towards browsers. My biggest performance improvement was gained by upgrading my OS to Windows 7 from XP SP3. Everything ran faster once I did that. Since I have a shitty graphics card, I don't see much improvement due to hardware rendering.
Update - Well, my blog would look excellent if Blogger wasn't injecting its own script into the page, overriding the default IE9 mode and deliberately downgrading the document mode to IE8. Bastards. There are no rounded corners now for any browser on first view, but IE9 browser users can click F12 and change the Document Mode to IE9, like it should be.
Speaking as a developer who supports web applications more than web sites, the most interesting part of the IE9 development process wasn't the end result (that was icing on the cake), but was watching the IE development team explain what they were doing and why. They got into standards and test suites and edge cases and and geekery for days. They also had some very serious dicsussions about the business decisions and trade-offs that come with choosing certain development paths and selecting what features would be included, what backwards compatibility was to be dropped, and how to distinguish between a want and a need. None if it satisfied the We Hate M$ assholes (who are swiftly turning into the current day version of the Netscape 4 diehards of 2000) of course, but it resonated well with people who support business applications.
Other browsers do specific things better. I suspect that Opera is actually the fastest performer out there, Firefox will satisfy widget mavens, Chrome has some slick tab options, Safari... well, Safari should never be put on a Windows box. Period. There are claims of better CSS3 support in oterh browsers, but their implementations are specific to them and not consistent. They will need to pass the new test suites the W3C has available - the ones Microsoft handed over to take care of the "standards" nonsense once and for all. No more specially rigged bits of fluff for any vendor (including MS). Transparent, replicable, consistent test suites that everyone has to pass.
I like IE9. It's nicely messed up the triumphalism of the other vendors at the same time as it has set itself up for continuously returning to and improving its own performance. That's what IE6 failed to do and why it became so impossibly lame. I'll be updating my write up on Safe Browsing to add specifics on how to configure IE9 when I get some time.