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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Internet Explorer 9 - The Future of Web Browsers

I've been exposed to Internet Explorer since my parent's very first computer in 1997. I'm willing to bet it's the most widely used piece of software on any given Windows machine next to the screensaver. In the last few years, IE has gotten a bad rap for being hard to develop websites in, hard to develop secure applications, and hard to learn all the idiosyncrasies. It has also started to slide to browsers like Mozilla's Firefox and Google's Chrome.

A few months ago, Microsoft announced IE9. This version of IE promises to completely revolutionize the browsing experience. There has been a lot of technical talk about it, but there hasn't been a lot of explaining in non-technical terms of why IE9 will be so cool. In this blog I will present the features IE9 will bring to the table so that everyone, not just web developers, can understand them.

Rendering Web Pages
When your computer received this web page, it had to do a bit of processing to render the black background, the white font, the pictures and videos, etc. Most web pages are relatively small and don't contain thousands upon thousands of images. Almost all computers are able to render simple web pages using their main CPU pretty effectively.

The problem comes when you want to have something crazy like three HD videos playing on your website at one time. Your CPU is built to do things like add thousands of numbers at one time, not to display video or render graphics. Even very fast computers will play those videos choppy, especially if you have other applications like Microsoft Word open.

Instead of having your CPU do work it wasn't made to do, IE9 will delegate some of the rendering of the web page to your computer's graphics processor. The graphics process is designed to show videos and scale images at a very fast rate. By splitting up the load, web designers will be able to add really cool features to web pages that make them look like normal desktop applications.

HTML, which stands for "Hypertext Markup Language," is the language that all browsers need to understand to display web pages. In essence, a web page "talks" to the browser, tells it things about the page like the background color, the layout of the page, etc.

Current browsers now only understand HTML 4. It has its shortcomings, most notably it is hard to put things like Youtube videos on a page and have it display in a standard way for all browsers. That, among other things, will be major improvements when HTML5 is released. It is still in development, and won't be fully done for another few years.

One of the reasons many people have switched from IE to Firefox is for security reasons. IE has many security holes in it that compromise a user's privacy. Firefox is well known for having better security than IE, but that may change with IE9. Microsoft has been focused on security in their most recent software releases, so this may be something the finally address in IE.

Concluding Thoughts
IE is definitely here to stay. It's loaded onto every Windows machine by default, and can't be removed. No matter how hard people in the web development community complain about it, people will use IE no matter what.

IE9 will change the face of both the web experience and web development. People will be able to interact with websites to the point where there is little difference between desktop and web applications. By doing things like using a graphics card for displaying web pages, supporting HTML5, and beefing up security, IE9 will be the biggest positive change to the Internet since it's competitor, Firefox, came onto the scene.


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