Internet Explorer 9: What’s the difference?

Internet Explorer—whether it’s Internet Explorer 6, 7 or 8—gets 60% of internet traffic around the world. That is, 6 out of every 10 people visiting, or, or, or are using Internet Explorer. And why not? Internet Explorer comes with Windows; you don’t have to install anything extra, just click on that friendly blue “e” and away you go! This, along with a few other reasons, means that Internet Explorer is currently the winner in the browser wars. But are the current in use versions of Internet Explorer winners by default, or through merit? And what about the soon-to-be-released Internet Explorer 9, what does it bring to the table?

The first thing to understand is some of the basic aspects of IE (Internet Explorer), and how it varies from other browsers. IE is designed to be an integral part of the Windows operating system, and is bundled with every copy of Windows that is installed. This is a big part of the reason that Microsoft lost a large antitrust lawsuit in Europe. The courts decided that having Microsoft’s browser as the default was anti-competitive. Since IE is an integral part of the operating system, it can get it’s grubby little fingers far deeper into the guts of what makes your computer tick than perhaps it should. What this means is that if a user goes to a website that has been compromised—one that is being used by a hacker to distribute malware—then that virus or Trojan or whatever else immediately has a much higher level of access to your system than would otherwise be possible. Basically, IE is providing a direct channel to the depths of your computer for any and all attackers that are lucky enough to get you to click in the wrong place, follow the wrong link, or get you to fall prey to any one of the various tricks that they use to install a virus.

Other browsers, such as Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox, are written by a third party, not Microsoft. Therefore, they don’t have easy access to the critical parts of the computer’s operating system. This extra layer of protection makes them more secure by their very nature. Another strength of Chrome and Firefox is that they are open source. To oversimplify the matter, that means that anyone can examine the source code—the very core of the software—for these two web browsers. For this reason, security holes are usually found, published, and fixed fairly quickly. In contrast, the source code for Internet Explorer is a highly guarded secret, so only the engineers at Microsoft can see the bugs.

Another major problem with IE is that it does not comply with many of the coding standards that the web is based on, making some pages load strangely, or not at all. But because IE is still the biggest dog on the block, many web page developers end up writing their pages twice: first to be compliant with web standards so every other browser on the market can view it, then again so Internet Explorer can display it properly. To avoid this double-duty, companies sometimes opt to write the page only in the format necessary for IE. Many insurance companies, such as Delta Dental, do this. They figure that every dentist with a computer has Internet Explorer, so they just say: “Forget the other guys; we’re going with the 60%”.

To see just how much the previous versions of Internet Explorer differ from other web browsers, take a look at these comparison screen shots from Acid3. The Acid3 test ( is the standard compliancy test used to judge how compliant a browser is with web standards. Remember, the following pictures are from the exact same webpage viewed with different browsers.

Google Chrome:

Internet Explorer 8:

Small bit of difference, eh?

Now, on to Internet Explorer 9!

Microsoft has made some very significant improvements with their latest browser offering. Tabbed browsing remains (don’t know about tabbed browsing? Check out this link and enjoy!, and a host of new features have been added. The feature getting the most buzz is the fact that IE9 uses not only your computer’s processor to render web pages, but also the graphics card, making any graphically intense web pages, like streaming video or some flash animations, display in a much smoother fashion. IE9 now also has a bit more support for customization. Not as much as the other two leading browsers, Firefox and Chrome, but it’s getting there. It’s definitely a step in the right direction.

Moreover, the team at Microsoft has greatly improved the security functions of IE9, cutting off some of the access it previously had to the core of the operating system. IE9 also has a built in anti-virus engine, scanning for anything shady on the web pages that you visit.

But what about the web standards you say? Okay, you probably didn’t say that, but I’ll answer anyways! IE 9 is remarkably standards compliant, sometimes even more so than the other major browsers on the market. Perhaps the development team simply got sick of hearing about how non-compliant IE was and decided to do something about it. Whatever the reason may be, Internet Explorer 9 scores a 95 on the Acid3 test, the standards compliancy test. It’s not perfect, but it’s a huge improvement from previous incarnations.

The newest version of Internet Explorer includes many more differences and improvements, but I’ve hit the major ones. So what does all of this mean to you? It means that IE9 is no longer a punching bag for IT people. The computer geeks (including me) will no longer do a kind of snorting laugh and give a condescending look when they find out that someone is using Internet Explorer to browse the web. Does this mean it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread? No, not by a long shot. There are still many issues with IE9, including the fairly major stumbling block that it doesn’t run on XP, but Microsoft is making an honest attempt at acknowledging and fixing them. Internet Explorer 9 isn’t the best of the bunch, but it’s also got nothing to be ashamed of, it can hold its head high. So go ahead, give it a shot, try it out. Who knows, you might love it!

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