Testing the Internet Explorer Platform Preview (IE9) – reviewing the good, the bad and the main letdown

At MIX10 yesterday, Microsoft announced IE9 and spoke about its upcoming features. And, lo and behold, they released a Internet Explorer Platform Preview for anyone to download and play around with!

I’ve tried to read up about it and play around with the preview as much as possible to get any indication of what to expect from IE 9, and here’s my take:

The good

I thought I’d first browse through the things I find good or at least promising.

Performance

One of the most exciting features in IE9 so far is the hardware accelerated rendering, which so far seems to give tremendously good results. IE9 also has a new JavaScript engine, Chakra, which has given a huge boost to JavaScript performance where it is on par with competing web browsers with a good result in the SunSpider test.

A picture of the SunSpider results including IE9

Picture taken from HTML5, Hardware Accelerated: First IE9 Platform Preview Available for Developers

I’m very glad to see this, and I hope it will drastically improve speed in IE9, and in turn in other web browsers as well – all for the gain of the end users.

CSS3 selectors support

Impressingly, IE9 has almost complete CSS3 selector support (many other web browsers already do), passing 576 out of 578 tests in the CSS3 Selectors Test. It also supports rgba colors, and border-radius, so in about ten years we don’t need images to have rounded corners on the web… :-)

Support for real DOM Level 2 Events

About ten years after its competitors, Microsoft has finally implemented proper event support in IE). That means that code like this will actually work as expected:

	document.addEventListener("click", function () {
		alert("Hello!");
	}, false);

This is something I thought IE8 should not have been released without.

Support for the <video> element.

Not available in the platform preview that is now publicly available, but showed at MIX, was support for the video element, which is great news!

Styling of HTML5 elements

As I mentioned in my post An Introduction to HTML5, in previous versions of Internet Explorer you needed a HTML5 Shiv, i.e. a JavaScript, to trigger it into applying CSS styles to new elements, such as article, header, aside etc. This is no longer needed, and works as expected in IE9.

SVG support

Again, LONG after competitors (blah, blah, blah), IE9 finally has a SVG implementation. Remains to be tested how good it is, what parts are covered etc, but a move in the right direction.

XHTML. Yes, real XHTML.

Again, almost a decade after web browsers, IE9 finally supports the application/xhtml+xml MIME type! Meaning, for those who need to use true XML/XHTML, this will now become an option.

Daring to speak of others

One thing that made me happy is that they dare to mention competing web browser both in their diagrams and have logos of them in their demos. Before it seemed like something like this was forbidden, so this new breeze of openness makes me happy.

The bad

No <canvas> element support

One of the most exciting technologies to create exciting content on the web is the canvas element. Unfortunately, there is, so far, no support for canvas in IE9 and no mention of it whatsoever. From reading the blog post Working with the HTML5 Community, however, Microsoft state:

…Together, we’re working on <canvas> HTML prototypes to use as ‘proof of concepts’ to ensure the feature is well-designed…

If that actually means anything at all, I have no idea, but let’s hope it’s an indication of canvas support to come. Till then, its omission is a letdown.

Acid3 support

At this time, IE9 scores 55 out of a 100, whereas most other web browser have scored 100/100, or are very close. There are many more things than an Acid3 score, but it’s still a hint about on what level IE9 is playing on.

A picture of the Acid3 test score for IE9

Picture taken from HTML5, Hardware Accelerated: First IE9 Platform Preview Available for Developers

Lack of support for exciting CSS

Albeit the above-mentioned CSS3 support is good, unfortunately IE9 lacks support for box-shadow, transform, CSS gradients, CSS animations and similar. Also, interestingly enough, it doesn’t seem to render any of its proprietary CSS filter styles – but, this is just a developer preview and probably doesn’t imply anything.

No support for Windows XP

Interestingly, Microsoft has decided not to offer IE9 for Windows XP. While I understand their motive with people upgrading OSes, not wanting to support an old operating system version etc, it’s a bold (or annoying) move when 65% of the market has Windows XP. It’s also a pain for developers who virtualize Windows (and yes, there are tons of them) who only want a light-weight OS and don’t want to buy and install Windows Vista or Windows 7.

Extension model?

Looking at the immense success of add-ons for Firefox and also the good things Google have achieved for extension developers with Google Chrome, Microsoft sincerely need to look into simple extensibility of Internet Explorer with web technologies.

The true letdown

One thing really stands out in comparison to the bad parts.

Choice of video codec

IE9 has chosen to use the H.264 codec, and if that remains their only choice and no support for Ogg Theora it is a sad, sad day for open video on the web, and something which will severely cripple the usage of the video element. Read more about this in The video element in HTML5 – great possibilities, but also codec and licensing problems.

This is a huge letdown for me.

The verdict

For me, jaded from experience, I have heard lots of promises from Microsoft over the years what they will deliver and have consistently been disappointed. However, many of the above things are exciting if they make it all the way, and addressing the bad parts and the letdown could actually make this into a good release.

However, except for performance, I see no real exciter above where they will be ahead their competitors in any way, and I think Microsoft really need that to compete. SO I guess we have to wait and see what will actually be released, And as alway with Microsoft and Internet Explorer:

I believe it when I see it.

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