If you're used to the notion of Internet Explorer being a technological punching bag of sorts, I've got a surprise for you: The next version of IE isn't just the best web browser Microsoft has ever made. It may have just leapfrogged the rest of the industry to become the best browser out there, period. And this thing is just in beta.
"Microsoft has more than a billion Windows customers in the world today, and we want browsing the web—one of the most common things they do on Windows PCs—to be a great experience," Microsoft General Manager Dean Hachamovitch wrote in a blog post announcing the beta. "IE 9 makes what's easy and familiar for Windows users available for websites and the people who browse them."
"Before IE 9, browsers used about 10 percent of the PC's capabilities," Hachamovitch told me in a recent briefing. "With IE 9, we use the full performance of the PC."
And while many find Chrome's Spartan user interface to be a strength, IE 9 makes the Google offering look positively tricked out by comparison. Aping similar moves in Windows 7 and Windows Phone, Microsoft has reduced the IE 9 UI to the bare minimum, allowing the content you're viewing—websites, web apps, and other online content—to take center stage. It's a move the other browser makers are loath to emulate, because they're trying to sell users on their browser brand. But Microsoft makes the underlying OS, so no matter: let the sites shine through.
"The browser is the stage, or backdrop, for the web, and the sites are the star of the show," Hachamovitch noted. "People go to the web for sites, not the browser."
Speaking of the underlying OS, IE 9 also integrates with Windows 7 in ways the other browsers could, but almost certainly won't, emulate, and for the same reasons. It lets you pin website icons to the Windows 7 task bar, side-by-side with local Windows application shortcuts, because people really do use a mix of Windows apps and websites every day. And these aren't dumb icons: They can support native Windows 7 features like jump lists, notification badges, customized taskbar thumbnails, and even Aero Snap, so that you can view web pages side-by-side on the screen.
If you're interested in the IE 9 Beta, then head on over to the Microsoft website to check it out. The IE 9 Beta is available for Windows Vista and 7, in 29 fully localized languages and 4 other languages with Language Interface Pack (LIP) localization. Also, be sure to check out my exhaustive review of the IE 9 Beta on the SuperSite for Windows.