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IE 9 Set Loose Online, in Austin

Internet Explorer 9, IE 9, Web browser, release to Web, RTW, tracking protection, security, CanSecWest Pwn2Own, netbooks, performance, ActiveX, site pinning, updates, Windows phone

Internet Explorer 9 made its official online debut on Tuesday evening, being downloadable here on the U.S. West coast at 9 p.m. Pacific time. IE 9 was launched prior to a party the company was holding at the South by Southwest event in Austin, Texas. Ryan Gavin, senior director of Internet Explorer business and marketing, talked about some of the highlights leading up to the launch in a phone chat on Friday.

"We'll hit over 40 million downloads by the time we hit RTW at Monday 9 p.m. Pacific," Gavin said. "We're seeing now upwards of two percent share already on Windows 7 for IE 9, even in beta stage. It was the fastest adopted beta ever in Microsoft's history."

Gavin attributed the positive response to community feedback and Microsoft's "transparent approach with IE 9 in terms of how we built the browser." Microsoft used its platform previews to showcase its HTML 5 implementations leading up to the beta release. The platform previews also provided a glimpse at what developers can accomplish with their Web sites via hardware acceleration and IE 9's "clean, site-centric design," he added.

RTW Improvements
Microsoft typically bakes in features running up to Release-To-Web time. The development team assessed more than 17,000 comments in creating this final release, according to Microsoft officials. Gavin described some of the improvements that happened from the time of the release candidate to this final RTW product.

"We've done a lot of work on low-end netbooks, specifically tuning for performance on lower end hardware, where, if you go to the IE test drive demo, there's a speed reading test, [and] if you run that over a lot of hardware, you'll see a lot of performance improvements with IE 9 in the final RTW version," he said. "On the area of our site-centric design and how clean the browser is…one of the pieces of feedback we got from our partners is that they love [site] pinning. They asked us if we can allow them to promote and market multiple sites that users have pinned all from a single page…so that's a set of functionality that we allowed. And we continue to make improvements in tracking protection including the respect for ActiveX controls, like Flash, and respect in our tracking protection work that we've done in our privacy front, as well as making the discoverability for that privacy work in tracking protection more prevalent in the browser."

In terms of user feedback, by far the most popular feature of the new browser is the ability to pin Web sites to the bottom of the screen as if they were applications.

"When a user pins their site, like Huffington Post for instance, on Windows 7, that results in a 50 percent increase in engagement on their site," Gavin said. "When a user pins them, it really does make them more like an app, which means their users are more engaged."

Another feature added to IE 9 is the ability to display tabs in a single row. A minority of users really wanted that feature, Gavin explained.

IE 9 Security and Privacy Controls
Security represents and another issue of consideration. Microsoft's current IE 8 browser was successfully compromised at the recent CanSecWest Pwn2Own hacking contest in which Google's Chrome browser alone escaped unscathed. The IE 8 holes were found by security researcher Stephen Fewer. Gavin indicated that Microsoft tried to get its IE 9 browser considered for the contest but was rebuffed.

"[The CanSecWest Pwn2Own hack result] was kind of a no-news here scenario," Gavin said. "We asked if they would include IE 9 in the contest, and they actually said, 'No,' because IE 9 wasn't out. So they included IE 8, and of course IE 8 has been out for a while. But if you look at some of the interfaces that we've done around IE 9 with security…and the privacy arena, IE 9 stands apart and we're quite proud of the work done there."

With regard to the potential security hole in IE 8, a blog post by a Microsoft employee recommends that "all users to upgrade to the new version of the browser in order to be immediately protected against potential risk," according to a translation of the blog from German.

Microsoft also offers privacy protection in IE 9 with its tracking protection feature, which has to be turned on by the user. This feature relies on volunteer-contributed lists of URLs to help block tracking by third parties, although it also allows users opt-in for tracking if they wish. Possibly, this approach will cut out the sort of third-party tracking that determines commissions on product referrals, which some users may want to happen, as in the case of Internet radio Web sites that direct users toward sites to buy music CDs. Gavin explained that IE 9 has no way to determine intent. "The browser doesn't know what a commission or an ad is," he said. Microsoft's approach is just to hand over control to the user about what gets tracked during a browsing session.

Microsoft has submitted its tracking protection technology to the Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C) where it will be reviewed by committees as a possible technical solution for adoption as a W3C recommendation. That effort is separate from any legislative or regulatory considerations, Gavin explained.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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