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Microsoft releases IE9 for chip happy Windows world

Windows XP not included

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Microsoft made IE9 available for download on Monday evening at corporate hippie fest South By South West in Austin, Texas, where it boasted that IE9 relies on Windows more than any other browser out there.

Rivals like Chrome, Firefox, Opera, and Safari – which spread their bets by working on different operating systems – are handicapped. According to Microsoft.

IE corporate vice president Dean Hachamovitch told South-by (as it's now called) that on IE9, websites will tap into the power of a PC's underling hardware - just like regular apps.

"The way sites are going to do that is through the browser. The way the browser does that is though the operating system," he said. "Other browsers dilute their engineering investments across a lot of different systems. Because IE focuses exclusively on one, IE can make the most of the Windows experience and PC hardware - just like graphics programs and games have done for years."

Well, make that part of one. It won't run on Windows XP, which is still on just under half of all PCs, according to W3schools. IE9 will only run on Windows 7 and Windows Vista - PCs that the Microsoft's IE team now categorizes as "modern" PCs.

Microsoft is doubling down on hardware acceleration as a way to juice web apps built on web standards like HTML5. According to Hachamovitch: "In IE, those standards take advantage of modern PCs running with Windows."

IE9 has been tuned to take advantage of Microsoft's DirectX 3D graphics multimedia and gaming APIs that talk to the PC's GPU. Firefox uses Microsoft's Direct2D and Direct3D for content acceleration on PCs running Windows 7 and Windows Vista, but the rest of the competition is focused on WebGL for 2D and 3D graphics. WebGL just hit version 1.0 and is supported by the latest stable version of Google's Chrome, Mozilla's Firefox 4 beta, a preview version of Opera, and the nightly builds of WebKit - the basis for Apple's Safari.

Microsoft killed the Mac version of IE years ago, so it's not surprising that Microsoft would put IE9 on Windows alone. After all, that's where the real threat is, with Chrome growing fastest, Firefox holding a quarter of the market, and IE at an all-time-low in browser market share. It's in Microsoft's best interests to shore up the Windows base by juicing the browser any way it can.

But it is surprising that the company would abandon Windows XP. What Microsoft has boldly tried to do by dragging Windows into the hardware acceleration debate is turn a residual negative - only being available on Microsoft's own operating system - into a positive plus, all the while dazzling us with talk of modern PCs and HTML5.

At South-by, Microsoft also defended the IE9 development process by dismissing the approach of Google and Mozilla, who deliver countless builds during the development process. According to Hachamovitch, IE offered preview builds only with substantial changes and Microsoft took and acted on feedback from the "community."

"Some browsers offer a numbing sequences of nightly drops - and they may or may not work and they may or may not be reflect in what the final product will do," Hachamovitch said.

It's interesting to note Microsoft delivered eight platform previews of IE9 since March 2010 plus one beta - that compares to eight Firefox 4 betas. Aside from Microsoft's tinkering with JavaScript's performance, there were three real landmarks in IE9.

Those landmarks? The addition of the Chakra JavaScript engine and support for CSS3 and SVG in build one; the addition of support for the HTML5 video and audio tags that appeared in build three; and the Chrome-like interface in last year's beta where the IE chrome was made to disappear into the background and the address bar was combined with the search box. ®

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