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Microsoft Previews Internet Explorer 9

Unveiled at the MIX10 conference in Las Vegas, an early version of IE9 Web browser draws praise from Mozilla.

At the MIX10 conference in Las Vegas, Microsoft on Tuesday signaled its intent to remain a contender in the Web browser battle by announcing the availability of Internet Explorer 9 Platform Preview.

Dean Hachamovitch, general manager of Internet Explorer at Microsoft, characterized IE9 as "the first browser to take standard Web patterns that developers use and run them better on modern PCs through Windows."

By "better," Hachamovitch means that IE9 supports Web standards and is fast. IE9 supports many new elements in HTML5, the evolving next-generation standard for Web pages, including CSS3, Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG), XHTML parsing, and tags for H.264/MPEG4 and MP3/AAC codecs. Mozilla fans will note the absence of Ogg Vorbis and Ogg Theora support.

IE9 also includes support for hardware-acceleration, to hasten the rendering of graphics and text.

"IE9 is the first browser to provide fully hardware-accelerated SVG support," said Hachamovitch in a blog post. "The IE9 developer tools support SVG as well, and we are excited to see what developers build on top of modern hardware with a platform that has great performance and internal consistency."

IE9 features a new JavaScript engine called "Chakra" that puts the preliminary version of IE9 ahead of Mozilla Firefox 3.6 in a WebKit SunSpider JavaScript benchmark test and just behind Apple Safari 4.05, Google Chrome 4 and 5, and Opera 10.5.

Perhaps most noteworthy, IE9 performs about six times faster than IE8 on this test.

IE9 scored a 55/100 on the Acid3 test, which evaluates Web page standards compliance. Firefox 3.6 scored 92/100. But Hachamovitch insists IE9's score will improve as it moves toward general release.

Microsoft also committed to contributing to the ongoing development of the jQuery JavaScript Library and to jQuery interoperability with ASP.NET in order to improve the development process for Web applications. And it released SDKs for the Open Data Protocol (OData), a data portability protocol based on HTTP and Atom that facilitates the exchange of data between .NET, Java, PHP, Objective-C, and JavaScript.

For Microsoft, IE9 has to be a hit. The company's overall share of the browser market, which includes Internet Explorer versions 6 through 8, has been declining more or less steadily for years. This has been due to security problems, particularly in IE6 and IE7, and failure to keep pace with the competition.

In February, Microsoft had 61.58% of the global browser market, according to NetApplications, down from about 80% two years ago.

In a blog post last November, when details about IE9 had yet to be released, Asa Dotzler, Mozilla's director of community development, predicted that Microsoft would surprise everyone with the seriousness of its effort to restore its credibility in the browser race.

"Microsoft dug a huge hole when it mostly abandoned IE 6 and the Web from 2001 until 2006," he wrote. "Their early efforts at ramping back up with IE 7 were a big disappointment to most Web developers and while their efforts with IE 8 were much better, they're still at least a full generation behind the modern browsers."

The generation gap however appears to be closing rapidly. In a follow-up post on Tuesday, he wrote, "Welcome back, Microsoft!"

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