Jan 9 - 15, 2012

A new year means a new Web browser. As we close out the year, the good news for Microsoft is that Internet Explorer 9 continues to gain ground on Windows 7. With Internet Explorer 9 and Windows 7 together, your websites perform like the programs that are installed on your PC. High-definition videos are smooth, graphics are clear, colors are true, and websites load faster and are interactive and responsive like never before.

Among all current browsers, Internet Explorer 9 gives the most space to the webpage, with a drastically cropped top-window frame that takes up just 63 pixels, compared with Chrome's 89. Microsoft has also built in the unique new Tracking Protection, which gives users more control than other browsers.


There are already language versions in Chinese traditional and simplified, French, Spanish, Japanese, Korean, and German in addition to English, with many more presumably to follow. But remember, IE9 only runs on the most recent flavors of Microsoft's operating system-Windows 7 and Vista-and there are separate installers for the two and separate versions for 32-bit and 64-bit editions. After downloading the correct installer, running it takes longer than installing Chrome, Firefox, or Opera(Free, 4 stars), and, also unlike those, it requires a reboot and OS updates.

Once it's installed, you don't have to run through a wizard making choices about search suggestions and other things as you did for IE8 (a simple task all too often not completed), it's just ready to browse-another nice simplification.


The new trimmed-down window header even still has the back arrow button clipped off to give space to the Web page. The first time you run the new browser, you no longer have to go through a wizard for choosing search suggestions and other options, as you did for IE8-another welcome simplification.


Its minimalist window leaves more room to the webpage contents than any other new browser, keeping controls to a single row and combining the address and search boxes into one. It's not as drastic, however, as Google's reduction of the interface to a single gear icon, and you can still enable IE's menus and toolbars, by right-clicking on the top window border.


Microsoft has improved tabs work in IE9, bringing them up to date with the competition's. IE9 lets you drag tabs out of and back into your browser window to create new windows, as other browsers have done for a couple years. It even does a couple cool tricks with dragging tabs to a new window: If you do this while playing a video, the video continues to play as you drag it. Also, when you drag to the left or right edge of the screen in Windows 7, the new browser window created fills exactly half of the screen. This is as it should be-adhering to Aero Snap in Windows 7-but other browsers don't do this.

You can now place IE9's tabs on their own row if you find you're opening too many to fit. The tab with the focus is now brighter, making it stand out. User can now close a tab without switching to it, as I can in every other modern browser. But this only works if the window was sized large enough-nearly full screen on a laptop. Since IE crams everything on one row-the address/search box, tabs, and controls-tabs can get mighty narrow. But there's some help for that: arrows appear on either side of the tab bar if you open too many tabs to display in the allotted space.

The new tab page helpfully shows your most frequently visited pages, but you can hide these if you'd rather not have everyone seeing some sites you frequent. The new-tab page also lets you reopen closed tabs or your whole last session, or you can start InPrivate browsing from it. Now there's also a "Discover other sites you might like" icon there and link at the bottom which encourages you to use the Suggested sites feature.


Instead of trumpeting its own branding, IE9 gives the site you're visiting center stage. This is nowhere better demonstrated than in the new pinned-site feature. By simply dragging a webpage's icon down to the Windows 7 taskbar, you create a pinned site. This gives the site equal billing with an application. This is strongly reminiscent of Google's idea of every app as a Web app. With its pinned sites, IE9 goes further than Chrome in this regard. Chrome does have Web applications shortcuts, but they don't get IE9's OS integration. These include Windows 7 jumplists for sites that supply the necessary XML data in their code.

IE9 pinned sites not only get their own taskbar icons, but their favicon is used where a browser logo would normally be, in the upper left corner of the window, and even the back and forward buttons take on the color of the site icon. The logo and colors for IE9 pinned sites are automatically grabbed by the browser for display in the window border. If you navigate to a different domain, the icon remains the same as the original pinned site, which struck me as a bit disorienting. One final difference for pinned sites is that the Home button disappears from their menu bar.

A recent twist on IE9 pinned sited is that you can now add multiple sites to a pinned-site icon. Just open a new tab, right-click on the site icon, and choose "Add as a home page." Though I think that wording could be clarified and the feature made more obvious, the feature offers a convenient way to open a set of frequently visited sites.

Pinned sites are a big ace-in-the-hole for IE9, at least for Windows 7 users, and site owners can promote their sites for pinned treatment and offer buttons on their pages that pin a site automatically. Chrome's application shortcuts do have the advantage of giving the whole window to the site, but Microsoft's giving full app citizenship to sites is commendable.


IE9 now has a single text box for addresses and search, too, called the One Box. One welcome behavior of the One Box is that after you enter a search and get your result page, the box doesn't switch to a URL, but instead your search terms remain there, in case you want to further refine it.