Performance, Rendering Improvements Coming in IE9

With IE’s market share continuing its decline, Microsoft is working overtime to catch up to the current generation of browsers. If everything Microsoft showed with IE9 at their Professional Developers Conference comes to pass, they may be able to stem the bleeding.

One of the most innovate features they’re working on is GPU acceleration. Right now browsers render the drawing canvas via the CPU, which is generally the slowest and most expensive (power, execution time, etc.) way to paint on the screen. IE9 will leverage the Direct2D Windows API to render graphics, which should speed page drawing and decrease the hit to the CPU.

They’re speeding up the JavaScript engine, but it still won’t be a screamer. It will still be the slowest JavaScript engine out there (numbers via Ars), but rather than being ~600% slower than Chrome it’s only ~%100 slower (and still slower than all the current generation browsers). No surprise there - they want to remain competitive, but they don’t want you running JavaScript apps. They want you running Silverlight apps.

Standards support is supposedly getting better in IE9, but as with the JavaScript performance, that’s a relative thing. Acid3 testing for IE9 in its current state is 32/100 (vs 20/100 for IE8), and it should improve during development. By way of comparison, Chrome (Webkit) is 100/100 and Firefox is 96/100. Unfortunately Microsoft was very non-commital about what CSS3 features they will support, so whether they will support the really cool stuff like canvas, embedded video, rounded corners, etc., or even SVG, is hard to say, though one can surmise the current development builds don’t support those things or they would have touted such.

Although it’s vaporware at this point, IE9 looks like it’s going to add some innovative features. It’s hard to say how compelling these features will be by the time IE9 comes out - at the rate Chrome is going they will have had 4 new major releases by then. Still, anything to improve the default browser on Windows helps web developers everywhere.