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Tech Report – Internet Explorer 9

Today marks the final release of Internet Explorer 9, the latest version of Microsoft’s widely-used web browser. In keeping with its recent pattern of major software releases, Microsoft has made IE9 available for testing for a full year and beta versions have been downloaded over 36 million times.

The days of Internet Explorer’s complete dominance of the browser market have long gone, although the latest figures suggest it is still clinging to a majority share of around 57 percent. However, Apple’s Safari, Mozilla’s Firefox, Google’s Chrome and others continue to eat away at Explorer’s lead.

Perhaps the most talked-about feature of IE 9 is Tracking Protection, which allows users to block web sites from tracking their activity. This comes at a time when there are increasing concerns about online privacy and talk of introducing mandatory “Do Not Track” options, similar to the Do Not Call registry intended to block unwanted marketing calls.

Specifically, Tracking Protection allows you to limit the browser’s communication with certain web sites. These web sites are determined by a Tracking Protection List, which can be created by any user. The idea is that individual users will not only create their own Tracking Protection Lists but will also have access to lists created and recommended by others.

Other features of IE9 include:

Hardware acceleration

Internet Explorer 9 taps into the power of the PC’s graphics processor (GPU) to boost performance of graphics-intensive tasks like video streaming and online gaming.

Pinned sites

Instead of being a tool that simply renders web pages, IE9 treats the Web like an extension of the PC desktop and treats web pages more like applications. Frequently visited web sites can be “pinned” to the Windows 7 task bar for easy access. Pinned sites open in a custom browser window, with the site icon in the upper left making it simple to return to the chosen page.

Enhanced tabs

With earlier versions of Explorer, users could open multiple web pages at the same time but couldn’t see two pages side-by-side, instead needing to toggle between them by clicking on the tabs. With IE9, you can drag a tab out of Explorer to view it as a separate window. You can then drop the tab back into the browser once you have finished with the separate viewing.

New Tab page

The redesigned New Tab page displays the sites you visit most often and color codes them for quick navigation. A site indicator bar also shows you how often you visit each site, although you can remove or hide the displays at any time.

Download Manager

Download Manager tracks the files you download from the Internet and helps alert you when a file might be malicious. It will also show you where to find downloaded files on your computer. Again, you can clear the list at any time.

At the same time as it releases IE9, Microsoft has set up a web site to encourage people to move away from IE 6. Despite being over 10 years-old, this popular earlier version of Explorer still manages to hang on to a 12% market share, confounding web developers who have to put in untold hours of extra work to support the aging platform.

The new version of the browser will be available for free and can be downloaded starting at 9:00pm PST on March 14. It is only available on PCs using Windows 7 or Windows Vista (Service Pack 2 or later). It will not work with Windows XP. It is also helpful to have newer hardware to take advantage of the accelerated graphics rendering.

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