Microsoft's had a tough decade in the browser space, plummeting from a daunting 90%+ market share in 2003 to a still commanding, but decaying ~60% that is largely comprised of corporations and clueless home users. The company hopes to halt that rapid descent and once again become a relevant player with Internet Explorer 9, which entered public beta today and can be downloaded below.
IE9 touts a revamped interface that is very obviously inspired by the competition. It's the latest -- and perhaps the last -- major browser to realize a little goes a long way. The UI has been torn down to the bare essentials: a combined address and search bar, as well as forward, backward, home, favorites, and tools buttons. The dated menu bar is hidden (you can access it by tapping alt).
Features include the ability to pin sites directly to Windows 7's taskbar for quick access (just drag a tab to the taskbar), and a new download manager that checks for malware and lets you pause or restart downloads. There's also an add-on performance advisor to let you know when extensions are slowing down your browser, a speed dial-esque "new tab" page and plenty more.
Much of what IE9 has to offer isn't tangible at first glance, but manifests in terms of performance and compatibility. Hardware acceleration harnesses the power of your GPU to load graphics-heavy pages, and the browser is more compliant with HTML5, CSS3, and SVG2 standards. Even simple things like tearing tabs between windows feels snappy -- more so than Firefox 4.
We know most of you will be hesitant to give IE a shot after using Firefox, Chrome, or Opera, but after playing around with IE9 for a couple hours I can honestly report that it's a whole new experience. Is it the best? Maybe not, but it deserves 15 minutes of your time, that's for sure. You can grab a copy in our download section...
Download: Windows Vista 32-bit | Windows Vista 64-bit | Windows 7 32-bit | Windows 7 64-bit