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Microsoft Internet Explorer 9 RC Arrives

Despite talk about using IE9 to appreciate the beauty of the Web, Microsoft is wielding IE9 to defend the Windows empire.

Microsoft Internet Explorer 9 Beta Revealed
Slideshow: Microsoft Internet Explorer 9 Beta Revealed
(click image for larger view and for full slideshow)

At an art gallery in downtown San Francisco on Thursday, Microsoft announced the availability of Internet Explorer 9 Release Candidate, the final milestone before the company's latest Web browser is officially released.

Though that may seem like an incongruous venue for a technology announcement, it reflects Microsoft's attempt to redefine the browser war.

"It's not about the browser," said Ryan Gavin, senior director of Internet Explorer at Microsoft. "We think about ourselves as the theater or the backdrop and the thing you pay for is the play." It's about the Web sites and how the customer sees them.

Never mind that the occasion was billed as an "IE Event." It's not about the browser; it's about unlocking "the beauty of the Web," as Microsoft put it.

Gartner research director Ray Valdes put it another way. "It's a battle Microsoft can't afford to lose," he said. "It's not like they can gain advantage [with a browser], but they have to keep from losing advantage."

It's not about the browser; it's about who defines the future of the online computing.

And Microsoft has seen its advantage slip away. Internet Explorer's market share has been declining for years. In February 2009, Internet Explorer's various versions had a collective global market share of about 70%, according to NetApplications. Today, IE's market share stands at 56%.

Initially, the problem was Mozilla's Firefox browser. More recently, the problem has been Google's Chrome browser, which has been growing at what must be an alarming rate for Microsoft.

Internet Explorer 9 represents Microsoft's attempt to reverse the downward spiral. And the seven updates released since March 2010 suggest the company will at least end the bleeding. Internet Explorer 9 is competitive with the latest versions of Chrome and Firefox and in many ways surpasses them.

Gavin noted that the various IE9 betas have been downloaded 25 million times since September 15, 2010. Among Windows 7 users worldwide, 1.82% are already using IE9.

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