Courtesy of the Windows 8.1 Preview which dropped yesterday, Internet Explorer 11 is now in the hands of early adopters. While the browser boasts a number of definite (Metro) improvements like infinite tabs, pinnable tabs, an always-visible address bar, Live Tiles for sites and multi-window "Snap" mode browsing, the browser's adoption of rival web technologies, namely SPDY and WebGL, seems atypical of Microsoft.
SPDY, an experimental Google-made protocol designed to speed up HTTP transactions, has been part of Chrome, Firefox and Opera for years. Microsoft has continued to shrug off SPDY though -- until now. IE11's embrace of technology leaves Apple's Safari as the lone hold-out in the world's quintet of most widely-used browsers.
Also making it into IE11 is a hardware-accelerated implementation of WebGL, a technology with Mozillian origins. WebGL enables browsers to display 3D graphics and has been the lynch-pin for projects like Epic's web-based port of Unreal Engine 3 -- all without the need for plug-ins. Microsoft publicly shunned WebGL in 2011, labeling it "an ongoing source of hard-to-fix vulnerabilities" as a result of the close but necessary relationship between graphics hardware and supporting browsers. It appears the company has had a change of heart, however.
When IE team lead and VP Dean Hachamovitch was asked why it took so long to adopt WebGL, he cited an exploit found in Firefox for Mac which allowed hackers to view what was on a user's screen. "You essentially go to a site and it reads the material you have open on a Word document in another window," explained Hachamovitch. "That’s a great example of the kind of security vulnerability we were worried about."
One open standard still missing from IE11 though is WebRTC. Already baked into Chrome, Firefox and coming to Opera, WebRTC enables real-time media chat through your browser without the need of additional software or plug-ins. It's a useful-sounding technology to be sure, but Microsoft and Skype consummated their love in 2011 meaning Redmond has incentive to keep its distance from free, competing protocols.
IE team lead and VP Dean Hachamovitch claims IE11 excels at key things like touch capabilities and performance because Microsoft -- unlike its competitors -- is focused on a single platform (i.e. Windows 8) and doesn't have to make compromises to accomodate older or alternative operating systems.
Even so, the company has admitted Windows 7 users are destined to receive IE11. No release date has been given, but the lag-time between Windows 8 and Windows 7 for IE10 was about four months.