IE9 RC1 is Out - And It's Pretty Good

Saying nice things about Microsoft chafes me a bit. The feeling it evokes isn’t as bad as, say, Linda Blair getting spritzed with holy water, but I’d rate it worse than barking my shin on the coffee table.

That being said, the first release candidate for Internet Explorer 9 is out, and… it’s pretty darn good. Geeze that stings.

I mostly steered clear of the betas, but I tossed the release candidate on a Windows 7 vm and gave it a thrashing. Here are my first impressions:

  • It's fast. I mean really fast. Google Chrome fast. Everything - page rendering, JavaScript performance, the performance of the UI - feels lightning quick.
  • The UI is basically the love child of Chrome and Firefox, which is a good thing. It's pretty and functional. You can move the tabs below the address bar instead of squeezing them next to it. That was a major UI flaw in the betas. Microsoft's argument for it is sound: most IE users don't open any tabs (in case you're an IE user and wondering if Microsoft called you stupid there - yes, yes they did). But that would be a deal breaker for power users. My morning what's going on in the world surf can leave 20 tabs strapped to the top of my browser.
  • There's much better support for HTML5 and CSS3. From a quick glance at one of my sites, border radius and box shadow seem to work fine (yay!), but text shadow does not. Overall it's a huge improvement over IE8.
  • It's a good crasher, and I mean that as a compliment. It crashed on me once, and basically it just closed and reopened the crashed tab on the same page. Perfect.
  • OpenLayers seems to work OK. Sometimes on a pan an image overlay will get very pixelated, and panning a little more will redraw the image and render it perfectly. But overall - vectors, popups, drawing tools, etc. - it seems to work fine.
  • IE9 and jQuery 1.5 don't seem to like each other. jQuery 1.4 appears to work fine.

I can’t picture myself using IE9 as my regular browser, but it’s pretty darn good. It looks like Windows phone 7 will be getting a mobile version before too long. It hurts me to say this, but… good on you Microsoft. AAAARGH IT BURNS!!!

Now that that’s out of the way, let me kick some dirt in your face. Vista and Windows 7 only? Really? Most of the corporate world is still rocking Windows XP. Yes, I know they shouldn’t be doing that. Windows 7 isn’t bad as far as MS operating systems go, and is a good upgrade over XP. But lots of people aren’t there yet. You’re reasoning - XP can’t handle hardware acceleration and other features - is just crap. The latest Chrome and Firefox betas can do hardware acceleration with DX on XP just fine, and you could always disable those features if they aren’t supported. You’re free browser will cost ~40% of web users $200, assuming their hardware can handle Windows 7, and testing sites on IE will become that much harder. Dunderheads! Ah, that feels better.

As Ars points out, the big question is what comes after IE9. With HTML moving to a rolling release cycle and at the speed the web changes, the technology environment for browsers favors rapid release cycles. Google realizes that with Chrome, and Mozilla is getting on board with plans to release Firefox versions 4, 5, 6, and 7 this year (though given FF4 is on it’s 12th beta, I’ll believe that when I see it). It has been ~2 years since IE8 came out, and IE9 isn’t here yet. That’s way, way too long. Even a yearly release cycle is too long. The innovative things that were announced for IE9 have largely made it into all of the other browsers in the time IE9 was being developed. To stay competitive, IE development time has to speed up. A lot.