The team at Microsoft has committed to releasing an update of their Internet Explorer 9 Platform Preview every eight weeks, and so far they’ve delivered. On Wednesday, the third preview version of IE9 launches, with support for HTML 5 video and audio.
Microsoft has also significantly improved IE9’s speed and support for Web standards, including the Web Open Font Format (WOFF) and the Canvas bitmap graphics drawing standard.
“With this update, we continue the pattern around ‘same markup,’ performance, and hardware acceleration that we’ve talked about to date with IE9,” Microsoft’s principal group program manager for Internet Explorer, Rob Mauceri, said on a Tuesday conference call. “We continue to listen and respond to what matters most to developers, and we’re delivering on the promise that we made to update the preview approximately every eight weeks.” (This one actually comes about 7 weeks since the last one.)
Thanks to its increased support for markup features developers have asked for, like Web Open Font Format (WOFF) and ECMAScript 5 arrays, IE9’s score on the Acid3 web standards test has risen from 68 to 83, compared with IE8’s modest score of 20. The test doesn’t measure all standards support and much of what it does measure hasn’t been ratified by the W3C, but it can indicate some movement towards standards support. In a further show of effort towards standards support, the IE team has to date submitted over 1,600 test cases to the Web’s standards body, the W3C.
To showcase its new support for Canvas, the IE team has posted new samples on its IE Test Drive site, including one built through a partnership with Amazon, showing a virtual bookstore, where viewers can open books, read excerpts and reviews.
IE9’s Canvas implementation is hardware-accelerated in the GPU, like all other text and graphics support in IE9. To show off new HTML 5 video and audio support, the IE team has built a demo in collaboration with IMDB, showing HD video clips.
“When you look at Canvas, audio, and video, they’re just a perfect match for acceleration in the GPU,” Mauceri said. “The better your hardware, the better your experience with these capabilities.”
In all, Wednesday’s update adds 15 new samples to demonstrate new features in the browser engine.
When asked to comment, Opera’s chief development officer, Christen Krogh claimed lMicrosoft’s latest foray into the browser wars was an attempt to keep stride. “We think it’s great that they aim to catch up in standards and performance,” said Krogh, “and we’re sure those goals will help to make the web a better place. But the focus for Microsoft is catch-up. In the past Microsoft was the company that was running away from standards, but now they’re on the defensive and changed their position. And the new position is a good one, because you want standards to work and you want standards to enable real competition. But of course we want consumers to use Opera instead of IE9.”
That a very fast browser is already available to the public. I pressed Mauceri on two similar points of concern to many: When will we see a user interface? And even more importantly, when can we expect a public beta and full release, even in broad terms? On both issues he would only say that the team is focused on building speed and standard support, but had no release timetable to announce at present.
For now, the bare-bones platform preview is available for anyone to download and test at www.ietestdrive.com. If you avail yourself of this, you won’t be alone: Microsoft claims that earlier versions have already been downloaded over 2 million times, with over 16 million visits to the test-drive site.