Finally, a 21st Century Browser from Microsoft

For the first time, Internet Explorer now sports cutting-edge support for HTML5, the collection of emerging standards that permit sites to deliver slicker graphics and typography, richer interfaces that feel more like traditional software and video that doesn’t require a plug-in such as Adobe Flash. Like an eye-popping 3-D game, the software takes full advantage of your PC’s graphics hardware, enabling glitzy animation at high speeds. (See pictures of vintage computers.)

This browser is so on top of next-generation Web technologies, in fact, that it has zipped ahead of most of the Web itself. For now, the most impressive evidence of its capabilities are demos that Microsoft and its partners have ginned up. But when better sites are built, IE9 will be ready.

Not being ready for the new Web wasn’t really an option for Microsoft. Research firm Net Applications says that Internet Explorer retains 60% of the browser market, but it long ago lost the confidence and attention of most of the people who care enough about browsers to make a considered choice. (On my site, Technologizer, it’s only the third most popular browser — Firefox and Chrome are No. 1 and No. 2.) IE9 is the first version in eons that gives browser enthusiasts something to be enthusiastic about.

Still, I don’t see Internet Explorer ever again crushing the competition like it once did. Too many excellent options are just a free download away: Firefox, Chrome, Apple’s Safari (available for Windows as well as Macs) and Norwegian underdog Opera. I also like Flock, which is based on the same underpinnings as Chrome, but with built-in features relating to Facebook, Twitter and other forms of online socializing. (See the best social-networking applications.)

By Harry McCracken | //

Like many of us, Microsoft does its best work when it’s running scared. Back in the mid-1990s, when Bill Gates & Co. thought that pioneering Web browser Netscape Navigator posed an existential threat to Windows, they responded by bundling their own new browser, Internet Explorer, with Windows 95. That led to the little legal kerfuffle known as United States v. Microsoft. But the truth is that Internet Explorer got so good so quickly that things would have been dicey for Netscape no matter what.

Microsoft’s share of the browser market passed 90% early in this century. With Netscape vanquished, the Internet Explorer team went into hibernation, ignoring the software until it was an embarrassing, archaic mess. Even versions 7 and 8 — released after an army of volunteer geeks resuscitated Navigator as Firefox in 2004 and began chipping away at Explorer’s monopoly — weren’t exactly scintillating. (See the 50 best websites of 2010.)

Last week, Microsoft unveiled the first beta release of Internet Explorer 9, or IE9 for short. It’s easily the most impressive browser upgrade to hail from Redmond, Wash., since the original skirmishes with Netscape. And I don’t think it’s mere coincidence that it’s the first one the company has hatched since its scariest current competitor, Google, got into the browser business by launching Chrome two years ago this month.

As beta software, IE9 is by definition a somewhat glitchy work in progress. Past Internet Explorer upgrade schedules suggest that the final version will show up sometime in 2011. If you’re curious — and not overly cautious — go ahead and download the beta here.

(One new Internet Explorer feature shuts out a sizable percentage of its potential user base: it now works only with Windows 7 and Windows Vista. Sorry, XP holdouts — Microsoft isn’t about to reward you for refusing to upgrade your nine-year-old operating system.) Leer más “Finally, a 21st Century Browser from Microsoft”