I almost always try the beta or test version of software. I am not so much into testing for testing sake, just trying out new stuff, before it is widely available. I tried the test Win95 interface for Windows NT 3.5, back before NT 3.51 adopted the new Win95 interface outright. For that matter, I took part in the Windows 95 “Preview Program” – little more than a glorified Beta test, for which I paid – $35.00? – to take part in. What was I thinking?
Ah well, with the IE9 beta, I again am trying the beta version, for the same old “trying something new” reason, plus one other… I’m curious, you see. I’ve NEVER been excited or very impressed with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser. Pretty much as soon as Netscape Navigator was available, I grabbed it and didn’t look back. Same with Netscape Communicator, Mozilla Firebird (yes, it was called Firebird until they had to change the name). What will the IE9 Beta bring to the browsing table? Can it compete with upstarts Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome, not to mention Opera?
I’ve always used IE, through its various iterations. The bare bones IE2, the barely can remember it IE3, IE4, which was not “that” bad… IE5, which I didn’t really like, IE6, which I pretty much hated (along with all other IT/web development folks)… then IE7, which was a big improvement over IE6, and then IE8, which, all things considered, is not a bad browser at all. Which is a good thing, considering that Microsoft’s Internet Explorer still holds nearly 65% of the browser market.
IE9 Beta is Fast (No, Really)
The good news is that, even for a beta, IE9 is not a bad browser, not at all. If you switched to Firefox a few years ago because you were sick of waiting for IE6 to start, much less actually load a web page, or if you switched to Chrome last year, as you heard it was even faster than Firefox, at starting up, plus loading web pages – you are in for a pleasant surprise with the IE9 Beta. It’s fast, plain and simple.
Whereas with IE7 and even IE8 (I will not even mention the dinosaur IE6) you had to wait for it start. Then wait for it to load a page. Then (heaven forbid) you wanted to open another Tab – because you had to wait for that as well. With IE9, it starts up really really fast, and loads whatever home page you have set nice and quick too. And opening another Tab, that is pretty much instantaneous as well – near Chrome speed as far as I can tell. This makes sense, if you think about it. How much should it take for a regular web browser in this day and age to just open a new Tab for browsing?
The IE9 Beta Interface
Besides the numerous improvements under the hood, which I will not even try to catalog or cover here, the main changes to IE9 are of the user interface improvements (or just regular “updates” if you prefer – it’s not really an improvement if you hate it, or if functionality dips because of it) variety. Let’s take the main window when you first start up:
The interface overall is very clean. Shown here without the Favorites bar, the IE9 Beta user interface follows what is fast becoming a conventional look among modern web browsers. Minimal toolbar buttons, no text menu, except for a few icons, a combination location/search bar, and a space for tabs, and the ever present Back and Forward buttons. Granted, it is only a Beta, but I am surprised by how flat the Back (and Forward) button appears. It’s a rather antiquated icon-ish look I think.
Compare the IE9 Beta user interface with that of Firefox 4 Beta 5, and the latest version of Chrome, 6.0.472.59. If you can not pay attention to the rather crowded Bookmark toolbars I use, IE9 Beta stacks up rather well I think.
I do think with IE9 the user interface folks have done some good things, and have seriously messed up with others. The old tab bar, with text menu to the right, common to IE7 and IE8, is gone. In its place is the combination Location/Tab bar. Not necessarily a bad thing, but if you “work” on the web like so many professionals do these days, when you have more than a few tabs open, you can’t read or tell what each tab is displaying without clicking it. By not having the Tab bar available on a bar all its own, the IE9 Beta is hamstrung when it comes to reading more than a few Tabs. As you can see in the following screen capture, check out the Tab titles, as they are impossible to read.
This is by no means intended to be the definitive review of the IE9 Beta, just my first impressions. If you are a current IE user, chances are good your computer came with IE as the default browser, and given that it’s all that you know, you’ll be sticking with IE and getting the upgrade to IE9. If, on the other hand, you’re a current user of Opera, Firefox or Chrome, there really is no compelling reason to switch browsers, and you’re going to stick with what you know.
The best thing is, for the first time in a long time, picking IE over another browser does not mean using a slower, less capable, browser. As the Beta progresses, I’m hoping that some of the UI issues, especially Tab management, will be improved upon.
Don’t just take my word for it… Download IE9 Beta for yourself and give it a spin. Then let me know what you think.