Microsoft's third preview version of Internet Explorer 9 shows that the company can rise to the competitive challenge posed by Apple, Google, Mozilla, and Opera.
Each of these four companies, through support for HTML5, has been working to make Web browsers capable of running Web applications that meet or exceed the capabilities and user expectations of desktop applications.
Microsoft's commitment to this cause may have been in doubt in the past, but as details of IE9 have emerged in successive Platform Preview releases, it had become clear that the company isn't content to sit this race out.
Echoing Apple CEO Steve Jobs's recently voiced disdain for cross-platform development, Dean Hachamovitch, general manager of Internet Explorer, argues that Microsoft's approach of coding specifically for Windows delivers better performance than browsers written to run on multiple platforms.
"Because some browsers run on many different operating systems, there can be a tendency to use a 'least common denominator' approach to implementing HTML5," he said in a blog post. "By using more of the underlying operating system, and taking advantage of the power of the whole PC, IE9 enables developers to do more with HTML5. Running through Windows, instead of just on Windows, makes a big difference; the Web runs more like a native application. This is consistent with our approach of architecting HTML5 support in, from the ground up, rather than just grafting in some HTML5 features."
While the engineers at Apple, Google, and Mozilla might dispute the notion that they’re just grafting assorted HTML5 features onto their browsers, as if re-creating Frankenstein's monster, there's no getting around the fact that IE9 is really fast.
Several demonstrations on the IE9 Test Drive site show that IE9 delivers far better frame rates than Google Chrome or Firefox. Of course it's an apples-to-oranges comparison, because, unlike IE9, the latest versions Chrome and Firefox don't yet support full hardware acceleration.
The Webkit Sunspider benchmark test shows IE9 Platform Preview 3 coming in third, behind Chrome 6 Beta and Opera 10.6 Beta, a substantial improvement from previous versions.
IE9's performance on the Acid3 test has also improved, going from 68 in Platform Preview 2 to 83 out of a possible 100. Google Chrome 5.0.375.70 for Mac scores 100 and Firefox 3.6.4 for Mac scores 94.
New in IE9 Platform Preview 3 is support for several previously unimplemented HTML5 elements, including video, audio, and canvas tags. There's also support for Web Open Font Format (WOFF) embedded fonts, DOM Traversal, full DOM L2 and L3 events, getComputedStyle from DOM Style, CSS3 Values and Units, and CSS3 multiple backgrounds.
Internet Explorer 9 Platform Preview 3 is available for Windows users to download. Microsoft has not said when it expects to officially release the software.