Putting sites at the center of the browsing experience, using the whole PC: IE9 Beta Available for Download

September 15th, 2010

Our approach to building a faster web browsing platform, as seen in the Platform Previews, involves using everything the PC and its hardware have to offer. Before IE9, browsers used perhaps 10% of the PC’s capability. IE9 has shown the clear performance benefits with full hardware-acceleration of web pages.

Our approach in designing a site-centric web browsing experience also involves using everything available around the browser. We see all the pixels and code that people need for a significantly better browsing experience already there on the screen. The beta of Internet Explorer 9, available now at in 33 languages, reflects this unique approach:

Our point of view is that the browser is the stage, or backdrop, for the web, and the sites are the star of the show.  Similar to the relationship between Windows 7 and Windows applications, people go to the web for sites, not the browser. We asked, “How can IE make sites shine? How can IE put sites at the center of the experience?” 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.

The IE9 experience starts from what people use regularly for launching tasks and managing windows. While consumers have browsed with a home button and bookmarks (or Favorites) for fifteen years, and tabs for closer to five, they use the parts of Windows 7 for launching tasks and managing windows far more. More people launch a pinned application from the Windows 7 taskbar (87%) than use the keyboard shortcut (ctrl+T) for opening a new tab. More people pin at least one non-default application to the Windows 7 taskbar (33%) than add a link to the Favorites bar. While tabs are central to the browsing experience, over 97% of IE sessions have 5 or fewer tabs, and more than 90% of users have never had more than 8 tabs open at once. The set of real-world usage data represents hundreds of millions of sessions and tens of millions of users worldwide, including students, enthusiasts, developers, people at work, and consumers in general. This post from the E7 blog has good background on the use of data to inform product design.

IE9 makes what’s easy and familiar for Windows users available for websites and the people who browse them. Users can pin sites in the taskbar just as they pin applications, and launch web tasks directly, the same way they launch everything else in Windows. Websites can program jump lists for pinned sites, to make common tasks easier for their users as part of the desktop experience. Sites can also program notifications when the user pins them in the taskbar. The browser has a clean new design that reinforces the site’s visuals, with a large site icon, and that icon’s colors reflected in the back and forward buttons. IE9 does far more than provide shortcuts to sites on the desktop and reduce the space used in the browser interface. The design of IE9’s frame puts the user’s focus on the site, not the browser, with fewer distractions. IE9 allows sites to shine.

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Tabbed browsing is central to the experience of IE9, even when sites are pinned. The metaphor of tabs is the best approach to date for browsing, and we’ve put a great deal of work into making tabs great. Even for pinned locations which normally reflect one single domain, we heard strong user feedback when we tested early prototypes that tabs were important to users in these pinned scenarios. For example, while immersed in shopping at Amazon or reading a news site, users still wanted the convenience of tabs when following links from these pinned sites, or when comparing information on different pages.

At the same time, we also understand that people consistently value multiple top-level windows for browsing, and by integrating across Windows in the taskbar we bring together all the user’s sites: tabs in the context of a pinned site, and the taskbar across all the top level windows.

People often want to see two tabs at once. For example, people want to compare two product pages, or have one page visible for reference while writing a comment or blog post or email. Every day, millions of people use Aero Snap in Windows 7 to put application windows side by side on their screens. About 40% of Windows 7 users have used Aero Snap. (Only 15% of users have control-clicked a link in a page.) IE9 is the first browser to support Aero Snap for tabs: 

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Aero Snap support offers a good perspective on alternative approaches to building a browser. IE9’s approach involves using what is familiar and available around the browser. Another approach, seen in other browsers, is duplicating within the browser all the functionality that users find around the browser.

Duplication in this context has negative consequences. From an engineering perspective, duplicating code in this way is inefficient. It’s a peculiar decision given the relatively low usage patterns described earlier of in-browser user interface, and the emphasis on removing browser user interface. The better way to duplicate functionality is by sharing the same code across all the running programs. Drivers and video codecs are good examples of shared code on a system. From a consumer perspective, duplicating code can challenge confidence. When users expect things to work the same, but find they don’t, there’s an “Uh-oh, what happened? Why didn’t I get what I got the last time I did that?” moment for consumers that breaks their confidence in the system.

Browser-centric thinking has other negative consequences as well. One is artificially limiting the browser experience to what’s “in” the browser, despite how people actually use their PC. The work that goes into running across several operating systems displaces the work needed to be excellent on any one of them. It also leads to the browser window supporting more and more user interface (or requiring people to learn hidden shortcuts, or other contextual UI) to manage browsing. This growth in browser window user interface is hard to reconcile with the sites the browser needs to support. There’s plenty of screen real-estate for improving the browsing experience—it is all around the browser, and not necessarily inside a single browser frame window.

IE9’s browser-specific experiences also focus on sites and users. For example, let’s look at the New Tab Page:

We re-designed and re-wrote IE9’s New Tab Page to be fast. The New Tab experience also reflects your usage patterns. It’s an example of building a feature that doesn’t require people to manage anything. In previous versions of IE, after users open a new tab, 47% of the time they just type in the address bar. Just as the address bar remembers where you’ve been and makes it easy to go back, this page adjusts to where you go on the web.  This experience is for the vast majority of people who are looking for something that works with their typical usage, and not looking for more information and surface area to organize, manage, and “get right.” Sometimes, and in this case our point of view is, “just works” involves fewer options and staying out of the user’s way.

IE9’s One Box combines the address bar and search box into a single edit control. Our design respects your privacy by default and it does not send your keystrokes to sites unless you tell it to.

With one click, you can get suggestions (typically visual suggestions), and turn the information flow on and off as you see fit. It’s also easy to use many different search providers, as well as add more.

Browsers have an important role in keeping people in control of their web experience and web data. IE9 makes significant progress with safety, reliability, performance and settings protection, and privacy.

Because add-ons are a key source of performance and reliability (and privacy) issues for consumers, IE9 provides information on the ongoing impact of add-ons on site performance and informs the user, so the user can stay in control of performance.

Downloads from the internet are a significant source of malicious software. Is that download really a screensaver, or actually malware? Other browsers leave that decision to the consumer without additional information or context. Just as IE8’s SmartScreen filter protects users from phishing and malware sites, IE9’s download manager offers users an early warning system against malware.

IE9’s site-centric approach uses the entire PC to make sites shine. We made IE9 fast with fully hardware accelerated HTML5 so people who browse the web can enjoy a faster, more immersive site experience using the full power of your Windows PC. Your favorite sites will shine with a clean new UI that integrates web sites into the Windows 7 experience you already know. Because malicious and poorly written sites threaten the reliability, privacy and safety of your online experience, IE9 delivers significant new protections that continue our leadership in developing a trusted browser.  And for developers, IE9 delivers excellent support for HTML5 and other modern standards, so the same markup works across more browsers, and the web is more interoperable.

The people who build the web have better ideas for their customers than browsers have been able to deliver to date. With IE9 this situation starts to change. Websites can offer richer experiences because of fully hardware accelerated HTML5. Those richer experiences now blend comfortably and consistently into the consumer’s desktop experiences. The focus should be on the site, not on browsing and browsers.

On behalf of the individuals and companies who have worked with us to deliver this beta, and the many people at Microsoft who have built it, thank you for visiting and trying the IE9 beta.

Dean Hachamovitch

P.S. Folks interested in more information about IE9 ahead of our blog posts might want to look at this feature list, and this “top feature” list, and at this Guide for Developers about the platform.

P.P.S. The beta is available today in 33 languages: 29 fully localized versions, and 4 languages with Language Interface Pack (LIP) localization. The English language version of Internet Explorer 9 Beta will however install on any language edition of Windows Operating system. The localized flavors of Internet Explorer 9 beta will only install on matching language editions of the underlying Windows Operating System.