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Microsoft drops second IE9 preview

Happiness is a codec consensus

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Talk about bad timing. Today, Microsoft released a second developer preview of its next Internet Explorer, just as word arrived that the browser's market share has dipped below 60 per cent and a storm of criticism hit Redmond for handling HTML 5 video with a closed codec it partly owns.

When Microsoft announced the first IE 9 developer preview in March, it did so on a tide of goodwill. IE 9 would be the first Microsoft browser to support HTML5.

But how things have changed.

Last week, Microsoft announced that the browser would handle HTML5 video with the closed and patented H.264 codec, and the goodwill ran dry. Speaking with The Reg, the company said this setup will debut with the third developer preview of IE 9, due in two months.

General manager Dean Hachamovitch also explained why IE 9 will only play video using H.264 instead of free alternatives like Ogg Theora, which is available in both the closed-source Opera and open-source Firefox browsers.

With a blog post on Monday, Hachomovitch had said: "The biggest obstacle to supporting more than H.264 today is the uncertainty. When there's industry consensus and confidence that the uncertainties are resolved, we'll be open to considering other codecs."

What degree of consensus does Hachamovitch want to see? "I want to avoid making a commitment on certain terms," he told us. "The key is, right now we have zero consensus," as there are so many different open-source video codecs. "I don't have the international metric unit of consensus. The greatest consensus is around H.264."

Microsoft hopes that talking up continued standards support elsewhere in the second IE 9 developer preview will assuage the mob - or at least allow Microsoft to recapture some of the glory of March's first preview.

The new preview offers a higher ACID 3 test score, 68 out of 100, and there's a 117-millisecond improvement in speed according to Webkit.org's SunSpider benchmark tests. Microsoft didn't provide exact numbers for context.

Microsoft promised improved performance and graphics support, and the company said it's been working closely with standards bodies. It submitted 79 new tests to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) responsible for HTML 5 compliance, bringing the total to 183. Hachamovitch believes a full and comprehensive set of test suites are essential for developers implementing the finished product. ®

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