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Internet Explorer 9 released

Spring is coming and one of the most anticipated and popular web browser has been updated. Microsoft has released the ninth version of their Internet Explorer, bringing their web browser up to speed with the competition and making it even though for some.

The first thing you'll notice after downloading it (only for Windows Vista and 7, so XP users, it's time to get something new than a 10 year old OS) is the new look. Internet Explorer 9 retained some details of its former self, but can mostly be described as Chrome inspired. Which is good, because taking notion of your competitors can only help improve yourself. The new look is still shiny, but the location bar and tab bar are now positioned on one line (but can be changed with a right-click option). There are only a few buttons, similar to IE8 on the right that give you access to important menus.

But if it were only looks, we'd not be this enthousiastic about this release. IE9 comes with hardware acceleration. That GPU you have in your desktop or laptop machine? It will be put to good use, meaning video, but also graphics (canvas, etc.) and text is performing much faster.

Some other features that are interesting are the pinned tabs, similar to watch you've seen in Chrome, Opera and the upcoming Firefox 4 release. A redesigned new tab page that gives you access often visited pages, closed tabs, and more. Integration with Windows 7 gives you the ability to pin web apps to the super bar, making them look (and act) more like apps. And one of my favorites is finally a download manager that helps you easily manage one or multiple download in one window.

Microsoft certainly shows that they still have the engineering power to create a big improvement of their web browser. I think you can best describe Internet Explorer 9's release as the release of Windows 7, exciting, so go download it!

Browser performance benchmarks

A few big players in the web browser market are gearing up for their new releases, Chrome 7 and 8, Firefox 4, Internet Explorer 9, and of course Opera 10.70.

In the coming months I hope to do a massive benchmark on both Mac and Windows comparing these browsers using several different benchmarks for JavaScript, but also for hardware acceleration (as that is now the key component of next generation of browsers). Not only do the browsers differ so much in JavaScript performance, as they all use different engines, but hardware acceleration is becoming important as well for WebGL and HTML5 technologies such as the canvas.

For what it's worth I've run Peacekeeper on my iMac with the latest builds:

  • Firefox 4.0 beta 6: 4516 (not yet using the new JS engine)
  • Safari 5.0.2: 5905
  • Opera 10.70 (9067): 6743
  • Chrome Dev Channel (8.0.522.0): 8153

Can't go without a V8 Benchmark Suite - version 6:

  • Firefox 4.0 beta 6: 1252 (not yet using the new JS engine)
  • Safari 5.0.2: 3258
  • Opera 10.70 (9067): 3610
  • Chrome Dev Channel (8.0.522.0): 5439

Hardware Acceleration Stress Test

  • Firefox 4.0 beta 6: 3 FPS (no hardware acceleration on Mac yet, planned for beta 7)
  • Chrome Dev Channel (8.0.522.0): 6 FPS (no hardware acceleration on Mac yet, planned)
  • Safari 5.0.2: 7 FPS (no hardware acceleration on Mac yet)
  • Opera 10.70 (9067): 16 FPS (software acceleration?)

And just for the heck of it, an ICC profile test:

  • Opera 10.70 (9067): None
  • Firefox 4.0 Beta 6: ICCv2
  • Safari 5.0.2: ICCv4
  • Chrome Dev Channel (8.0.522.0): ICCv4

So which benchmarks would you recommend for the upcoming massive test?

Firefox and Internet Explorer 1-on-1 in Europe

The browser market shares differ greatly globally. Even on a per country base you'll see that each browser has more, or less, market share.

A common thing in each region is that Internet Explorer rules supreme, but StatCounter's numbers suggest that this last month Internet Explorer number one spot might be at risk as Firefox has been climbing closer and closer.

Google's Chrome is doing great too in Europe, similar to the US they've been growing and growing steadily. Differently though is that in Europe Opera and Safari struggle with each other to get that fourth spot. Safari probably gets most of its users from the Mac platform (let's be realistic that the Windows version, like QuickTime and iTunes, doesn't feel too well integrated). Surprisingly to me is that Opera in 2009 lost a lot of users and hasn't been growing much this year at all.

Do remember that there are lies, damn lies, and statistics.

Why having Firefox around is important

Not all that long ago Internet Explorer dominated the web. Opera was there, but as little as it was, it never proved to be a strong competitor for the masses. The only hope remained at that time with an organization that was working on our last hope, the last stand, before the fall of the web.

The web never fell in the clutches of Microsoft. If it wasn't for Firefox, and perhaps more importantly the developers, community members and you, the web could have been taken by Microsoft. Not necessarily implying that Microsoft is evil and all, but a single entity should never have the most of the web in its powers. Imagine, if you have more than 95% of the market, the W3C can scream any standards they want, you do what you want, as people won't notice the difference. If you say technology A is the way to go, and it only works on Windows, well, that's a problem.

But it didn't happen, Firefox came, from the ashes of the beast. Not only was their timing perfect when IE was under fire due to its insecurity, but it was also a browser supporting the latest web technologies and offered new features for the end user.

Today we must remember this, we must remember that Firefox has saved us all, or perhaps freed us all. Look at IE, it's from Microsoft. Look at Chrome, it's from Google. Opera, Safari, are also both software from commercial companies. The web is not just a platform made by a vendor, not just some piece of software. The web is that what connect every piece of technology, software, and most importantly us. Therefor, the web is like a free medium, better than your news paper or television show.

The Mozilla organization (and it's commercial entity) are not commercial. They are one of the few who have taken up the task to free us and keep us free. Although a lot of their income is generated by Google searches, they'll never expose our privacy, they'll never force a platform on us (IE9 will not work on XP), they'll always try to move forward. If something isn't commercially viable, they still could work on it.

Let's keep that though and let's all work on the next version, Firefox 4. Regardless of if you're a fan of the other browsers, it's important to know why Firefox, and Mozilla, is important, and how you can still make contributions, no matter if its big or small.

Remember Firefox.

Episode II: Who will bleed, who will win?

Time and again, we're back where we've started, or not. With more contenders, there does seem to be a repetition in history.

The second browser war is well underway, if anything can be said, it's this: we all benefit. With competition on stability, security, speed and standards compliance, there is no better war where the user benefits.

On the desktop the war raging on, but it seems some players are wounded. With Microsoft beaten up but well awake, they seem able to have a new star out in the fields that will surely satisfy its existing users as well as web developers. They're serious and they're showing. On the feature side it will be hard. IE has seen and implemented the non-modal dialogs, developer tools found in other browsers. A new download manager and a clean look (like Chrome) should give normal end users the "new" feeling, but is it enough? By becoming a Windows Update and part of upcoming Windows releases, IE is most likely staying with a large market share. People know the name, and those who haven't dwelled off, will remain using it, as it actually has dealt with the biggest complaints.

Mozilla's Firefox seems a bit in danger, is it becoming the new sinking ship like Netscape? Or will they keep the boat floating, while remaining competitive on their most problematic grounds: speed and features. Up till now they've been in the back when looking at JavaScript performance, while V8 was introduced by Google, Apple threw in Nitro, which was at least near in terms of speed. Not long after Opera was working on Carakan, which is now in their stable releases. And even the slowest of the pack, Microsoft, has written a new and faster engine. But that's not all, Chrome is seriously halting Firefox' growth. Not just by Google's sheer size as a marketing machine, but also simply because Chrome does. Chrome does stuff better, like a simpler interface, lightweight on machines, extensions that don't need restarted and better performance. In all areas Firefox is trying to keep up, Firefox 4 shows these influences. If there is something they must do, it's keep being in the spot light of the end user, by what ever means.

Chrome seems to be the really jock of the pack. With a good marketing campaign from Google, and simply a solid product that has very few weaknesses they really hold the best cards. Chrome is Google's gateway to their apps, like Mail, Docs, and of course their search engine. It is important that this gateway is present and Google's OEM efforts seem to confirm this. With Android being successful on smart phones, they can focus on the upcoming tablet market as well as fending off Microsoft's Internet Explorer which will probably show more and more Bing integration along the way.

Safari, dear Safari, with no foothold on Windows it will remain the nice default browser for Mac OS X and iOS. Feature wise they're ok, but they aren't a match for any of the competitors. People who like simple basic stuff and some lightweight extensions will feel just fine, but due to its rather exclusivity to platforms, Safari is in no way able to take on a significant portion of the market.

Opera probably will remain where it is, dwelling between 1-2%, without any revolutionary moves like a browser only, extensions support and big marketing campaigns. Opera's focus is and should be in keeping the mobile market as a valuable market. They should not end up being non of the default browsers on any of the three upcoming platforms (iOS, Android, Windows Phone 7). Focus on features, and making deals with the likes of HTC, might give them prominent places where others have trouble (Mozilla Fennec) landing on their feet.

Of course everything here is just speculation, what are your ideas on the outcome?

Episode I: Introduction to the browser wars

If you like browsers, life couldn't be better. We're in the second browser war and the stakes have never been this high before, ever.

The battlefield has changed since the last war, which was mostly between Microsoft and the now late Netscape. It was fought by means of operating system integration, push-technology, ActiveX, VRML and the likes. But today the battlefield is much more about standards support, like HTML5, CSS3, and WebGL. But where OS integration was important, performance is now the main goal, who has the fastest JavaScript engine, who offers hardware acceleration? Of course there's another factor, customizability, who has the best extension system, but also stability and security, especially security have been given much thought.

The contestants of this war are new and old, Microsoft is still here (to stay), Mozilla is the spiritual successor of Netscape, Opera silently lurks, while new contenders are offsprings of WebKit from Apple and Google. Of course this war is not limited to desktop PCs or Macs anymore, smart phones, tablets, are also key elements in conquering the web.

Microsoft
When this web site started Microsoft dominated the web, Internet Explorer had 95+% share and the only real players left were the immature Mozilla code base (what is now SeaMonkey) and Opera. The story is well known, Internet Explorer 6 kept the web hostage, and more or less still does. It's far from standard compliant, has limited extensibility and performance is poor. With the popularity of Firefox, Microsoft was forced to recreate the IE team and has been working on IE7 and IE8 to fix the mistakes made in the past. But making up for it is hard, as IE6 bites with its disability to comply with standards. IE7 and 8 tried to fix mostly the CSS parts, but support was lacking for more recent standards and performance didn't improve that much, let alone security.

The recently released IE9 shows that Microsoft is very serious. It supports much more of the latest standards, such as HTML5 and CSS3, and finally scores well on the different ACID tests. JavaScript performance has also improved a lot, hardware acceleration was even pioneered in their first test releases, and above all they actually took time to refresh the looks to fit modern times.

In the mobile sector Microsoft has its soon to be launched Windows Phone 7, which of course comes with a browser using some iteration of the IE-engine. If Microsoft's plan succeeds, Windows Phone 7 will compete with Android and iOS for the smart phone market.

Mozilla
From the burning ashes of Netscape, Mozilla was working and working on Mozilla's code base. Offsprings were the latest Netscape releases 6 and 7, before AOL spinned off the organization behind the development. With a funding in their pocket and a shift of refocus of delivering software to end users, and not a product to base something on, they worked on an experiment that started with the name Phoenix, became Firebird, and was even better named Firefox.

Firefox was a successful choice, not only by name and logo, but also by its approach. It was timed just at the right time when Windows XP and Internet Explorer were under a lot of pressure due to their famous insecurity. Firefox offered a safer browser, but also a simpler interface with tabs and the now ever popular extensions.

Firefox 1, 2 and 3 were quite the success, reaches around 25% of global shares, but as of late development is taking a bit too long due to the more intense competition, especially from and old friend. Firefox 4 is currently in beta, and even now several features had to be removed, so it can reach a stable release this year. But don't worry, some very important features are still there. Firefox 4 comes with a newer look for Windows and Mac, integrating with the new operating systems where Firefox 3 really doesn't fit. Standards support for HTML5 and CSS3 is still good, and at the time of writing the new JavaScript has finally arrived that should, after some polishing, bring it in reach of the competitors performance wise. Only slightly after Microsoft, Mozilla announced support for hardware acceleration in Firefox 4, keeping them on par with the rest, but is that enough?

Fennec, the little brother of Firefox, has been running on the Nokia N900 (using Maemo), an Android version is in the making, but unfinished at this time. Suffice to say that iOS isn't part of the plan due to Apple's restrictions. So far no mobile vendor feels like bundling Fennec yet. As long as it's beta that's fine, but it remains to be seen if Mozilla's technology, which has been known to be less lean and mean like Presto (Opera), or WebKit (Safari/Chrome), will run well on mobile hardware. Fennec tries to be different by overing sync options as well as extensions.

Google
With already their sixth version out one would believe that Google is a long time player, but they've been in the battlefield for only a couple of years. Chrome is the pinnacle of all the web browsers, as the youngest it also has the most modern basis. Its approach is different, quite different. While the base consists of WebKit, which we know from Safari, the architecture of the software was unseen at that time.

With some big names like Ben Goodger (of Firefox fame) as well as Mike Pinkerton and others (sorry, I still like you all!), Google created a team of engineers that could work on something completely new. Chrome was the first to offer a process per tab, isolated plug-in processes, extension processes and soon to be GPU processes. This whole separate process story is an easier, but perhaps better way to offer security (everything is sandboxed and separate), stability (one tab crashes, the others don't notice) and speed (hey it works well on multi-cores). V8 was Google's torch, and has started the ongoing JavaScript performance race. They're still at the top with few contenders.

Currently at version six, Chrome has been growing and growing while Firefox and IE have slowed down there growth and decline. With Google's name on it, their marketing power, and simply being the most secure and one of the fastest browsers, they've seem to have stolen the hearts of many of both the IE and Firefox camp. Chrome's only enemy is Google itself, as Google is known for its powerful search engine it also means that you feel a bit watched. Anyway, Chrome is developing at a fast pace, with 7 having hardware acceleration and 8 possible introducing a better integration of instant search.

On the mobile side Google has been working on Android, probably the star of the smart phone market and the truly sole competitor at this time (until WP7 appears) of iOS. Android doesn't come with Chrome itself, but with another WebKit browser (in fact Android developers recommended using WebKit, when talking to the Chrome developers).

Apple
When Microsoft fell asleep and no new Internet Explorer (or Netscape) coming they needed to do something. Bringing in Dave Hyatt from Mozilla, Apple silently worked on WebKit, which was based on KHTML but with some serious modifications. Safari was born and has since been a star child of standard compliance and speed. With a surprise move they've also invaded the Windows platform, but like anything from Apple, it didn't flourish that well when away from Mac OS X.

Development on Safari is going in good enough pace. Apple's silent development is rarely disrupted by announcements, but WebKit 2 was announced some time ago to introduce a multi-process architecture at the heart of the rendering engine. Besides that we've seen extensions being enabled in Safari 5, while hardware acceleration is only available in a limit way (but they do work on WebGL, so who knows). Usage of Safari has been growing very hard, Chrome, which shares the same engine, has only been available for a short period on the Mac platform, but might get some people over, as Safari's extensibility is still considered limited. Windows popularity is not in sight as far as I can see, it's just not native (enough), and simply doesn't offer anything really compelling compared with the competition (as it isn't default, nor faster).

On the mobile side, WebKit is available in other browsers on other platforms, but Safari itself is probably limited to iOS (and Mac OS X). So growth and survival is dictated by these platforms and Apple's ability to lock out others from their platform.

Opera
And last but not least is Opera from Norway. They've seen it all. They've seen Netscape perish and Firefox flourish out of the nothingness. Opera's usage did increase in absolute numbers and their efforts in the EU against Microsoft have not remain unnoticed. But still Opera has not succeeded where Firefox, Chrome and Safari have: getting a significant portion of market share.

Opera is different from the others, from the beginning (until the end?) it has been a suite of applications for the internet. Although for most the web browser is the important one, it also offers complete integration of mail, IRC chat, BitTorrent, data synchronization and compressed web pages through Opera Turbo. Presto is a fine piece of work, as it is like WebKit a lightweight engine that supports many of the latest standards found in HTML5 and CSS3. While Mozilla was first struggling in finishing Gecko (their rendering engine), Opera succeeded in rewriting theirs (Presto) in a much smaller team and timeframe. This seems to repeat itself as Opera wrote a new JavaScript engine (Carakan) that was finished much faster and performance much better than what Firefox currently has to offer. Vega the new graphics library that will support hardware acceleration in the future has been the fastest software renderer yet. So on the engineering side Opera is really strong.

The current releases have made up a lot, as previously Opera was lacking behind a bit in the department of platform integration, JavaScript speed, automatic updates, and exotic new standards. The only truly missing part is support for extensions. Something a lot of people asked for, but is still ignored, as Opera is simply, different. Opera's continued development is hopeful though, the release cycle is fast and they genuinely seem to listen.

On the mobile side Opera Mini is quite successful on standard mobiles, but also on smart phones. Being the only browser allowed on iOS, in combination with a native Android app, they seem the only alternative available on two important platforms, well before Mozilla will ever set foot on it. With regards to WP7, we'll have to wait and see. If Opera continues to work on their web browsers and launch non-Mini variants as well, they might have a market, and the possibility of being bundled by mobile vendors.

Internet Explorer 9.0 Beta released

Microsoft released the first beta of Internet Explorer 9, a milestone for Microsoft, but also for the web. Internet Explorer is still today by far the most used browser on the planet.

The ambitions for this release are big. On first sight it has a new shiny user interface, that uses Aero, but is also much more simplistic in nature. The search and location bar have been unified, and share the same space as the tabs. The menus have been reduced to one, similar to Chrome, adding to simplicity. Other features include the ability to pin web sites to the task bar, allowing you to easily open really favorite web sites in a click.

But of course the major attraction points are on the technology part of the web browser. Internet Explorer doesn't just use Aero features, it actually uses DirectX for hardware acceleration, and has been a pioneer amongst web browser in providing this feature (Firefox 4 and Chrome 7 followed right after). On the web standards side of things a lot has changed. There is now broader support for HTML5, SVG, CSS3 and much more.

Windows users who are interested and running Vista or 7 can download the beta from Microsoft. Be sure to note that this is a beta and it might be unstable. So far it looks like a major release by a giant on the web who has awakened amidst the fierce competition.

Google announces WebM, the open web media format

During the first day of the Google I/O conference in San Francisco the good fellows of the search giant announced WebM a new open web media format. Why is this important? Well, it seems that this could be the end game for the HTML5 video element.

Not as in the end of HTML5, but the controversy surrounding the video element itself, which didn't limit the codec used to render video. This led to fragmentation as both Mozilla Firefox and Opera only supported open and patent-free standards like Ogg Theora. The competition, including Apple Safari and Google Chrome did add support for the software patent infested H.264, making it hard to target all browsers at once. The newly announced WebM project is here to end it. With a new standard based on the VP8 codec from the recently purchased On2 Technologies, Google is opening up a new codec that offers better quality than Ogg Theora (while still using Ogg Vorbis for audio), as well as keeping it open and patent-free.

But announcing just a new codec isn't going to help by itself. For it to succeed Google needed friends and here there! On the software side both Mozilla and Opera have joined the league, Microsoft announced that IE9 will enable VP8 if it's installed, making Apple the only one left. But there is more, yes Adobe Flash is there too. Other software parties are: (Google/OHA) Android OS, CoreCodec, Skype and more. But software isn't everything, hardware acceleration would be nice too, so the following hardware companies joined as well: AMD, ARM, Broadcom, freescale, Imagination, Logitech, Marvel, MIPS, NVIDIA, Qualcomm, Texas Instruments and more. Of course, being Google means that this time all videos on YouTube will be available in an HTML 5 with WebM combination.

Google promises that tonight the new codec will be added to Chromium (and end up somewhat later in the development stream of builds), while both Mozilla and Opera already released the first test builds of their respective browsers. Hopefully the world will adopt this one standard so we can all enjoy the unity.

Experimental HTML5 video support for YouTube

Google may be the biggest competitor to Microsoft on a whole scale of non traditional ways, but one thing is definitely true, they are pushing new technologies where they can.

Where Apple dominated the new wave of touch-screen mobile devices, Android is opening up the market by exposing a similar OS albeit with multi-tasking and customization. In the same approach not pleased with the slow development of Firefox (hey where is that new update approach coming from Mozilla, and why?) they introduced a new way of browsing the web with the fastest JS performance and multi-processes.

Today is the day that they push technology in another way, though with a sharp edge to it. We already know that HTML 5 comes with the video-tag and that there have been arguments about whether support for the different encoders should be part of the specification. Currently encoders don't play a role, and Google opted for the most superior encoder out there, but with a cost.

H.264 is the new standard to be used for Google's latest HTML 5 experiment for YouTube, but the thing is only Chrome (Frame) and Safari support it. H.264 requires that you pay a certain sum, and although Mozilla must have the money (from the Google search deal), they do not support it, heck they only support the open-source OGG format.

Anyway, if you have Chrome (Frame) or Safari, you can now enjoy the HTML 5 video-tag without the need for Flash, and with perhaps better quality at the new YouTube page. You can opt-in here if you have a supported browser.

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