We toured IE8 back when its beta first dropped and found it inching closer to becoming a viable browser. IE9 takes another big step closer, introducing a new streamlined interface, higher performance, Windows 7 integration and more.
Click on any of the images below to get a closer look.
The first thing you'll notice when launching IE9 is that the interface is completely new and takes up very little vertical space. Gone are the days of a million toolbars and lost screen real estate; in fact, the top toolbar is even more pixel-friendly than Chrome. It combines the most important navigation buttons, unified search and address bar, tabs and options buttons all on the same line. You can resize the address bar if need be too, to fit your preferences, and all your options are available under one unified button, just like the newest version of Chrome. The address bar is pretty handy, giving you suggestions from your history and from Bing, complete with inline images to help you find what you're looking for. You can, of course, add other search engines if you so desire.
Standards and Performance
IE9 takes a flying leap towards its competitors in the under-the-hood realm, adding hardware acceleration (using your GPU to help render more intensive web apps) and lots of HTML5 support. Microsoft has a nice Test Drive page from which you can test these features out through little games and video demos. It's certainly not without a few issues (one of the games crashed my display driver, though there's no way to tell whether that was the browser's fault), and there are definitely a few random rendering issues. It is, of course, a huge step up from IE8 and it's still in beta, so I'm sure we'll see any issues resolved as time goes by. And as far as regular browsing goes, it's the snappiest IE we've seen yet.
Windows 7-Supported Application Shortcuts
While Chrome became popular for its ability to create "Application Shortcuts" to web apps that you can pin to the taskbar, Microsoft has taken it a step further by partnering with certain web services like Facebook and Twitter to create their own taskbar-docked bookmarks, complete with jumplist support. For example, dragging the Facebook URL from the address bar down to the taskbar will give me a shortcut with a jumplist that can navigate me to specific parts of the site, like my news feed, profile or inbox. Then, when you open it up, it will open in its own window, with all the buttons matching the colour scheme of the site itself.
Finally, like Firefox and other popular browsers, Internet Explorer has a nice little window from which you can monitor and manage your downloads. It's not revolutionary, but if you prefer this method to the way IE used to do it (or the way Chrome still does it), it's a pretty welcome change.
The new tab page looks a lot like Chrome's, featuring your most recently visited pages. It's not nearly as good-looking as the other ones out there, but it's useful nonetheless. You can download the beta right now; just hit the link below to check it out.