After a couple of weeks on tinkering with the newly released Internet Explorer (IE) 9, and a host of other Web browsers, I have to say that while 32-bit IE 9 is much better than any other version of IE to date, it’s still not my first pick for a Web browser. Here’s why.
1. Operating system incompatibilities
When it comes to desktop operating systems, IE 9 works only with Windows 7 and Vista. That’s it. XP users? You’re out of luck. There’s no IE 9 for XP. Yes, according to NetMarketShare, the majority of Windows users are still running XP, 55%, to 23% running Windows 7 and 11% with Vista, but there’s still no IE 9 for you.
Of course, Microsoft also doesn’t support IE 9 on Mac OS X or Linux either. Indeed, Dean Hachamovitch, the head of Microsoft’s IE’s engineering group boasted of it at the SXSW (South by Southwest Conferences and Festivals). Hachamovitch is reported as saying, “Other browsers dilute their engineering investments across systems. Because we focus exclusively on one, IE can make the most of the Windows experience and the hardware.”
Funny, Chrome, Firefox, and Safari all seem to manage it pretty well. And, even if Microsoft wants to ignore Mac OS X and Linux, why not at least a version for XP anyway?
The answer, of course, is that Microsoft wants to sell you Windows 7, even if you don’t need or want it.
2. Performance
Yes, IE 9 actually is the winner at the SunSpider JavaScript 0.91 benchmark, but a fuller suite of tests reveals that IE 9 actually loses to Chrome and even to the Firefox 4 release candidate on other benchmarks.
I’ve also been finding in my day-to-day use that Chrome just feels faster than IE9. As my good buddy Mary Jo Foley, who knows a thing or two about Microsoft, puts it, “I have to say, I think the Softies have some pretty stiff competition from Chrome, which I’ve been using increasingly as my browser of choice because of how quickly it loads pages. Yes, I know. I’m very old-school that way….”
The long and short of it is that IE 9, while much faster than its predecessors, isn’t really faster than its browser rivals. All of which, again, will run on any desktop operating system you throw them at.
3. The 64-bit version of IE 9 is second-rate.
Of course, when I say that IE 9 is faster, I’m talking about the 32-bit version. The 64-bit model is a dog. It’s several times slower than all the other browsers when it comes to JavaScript.
I’ve been told over and over again by Windows fan boys that no one would ever run the 64-bit version of IE. Funny, the IE 9 download process still insists that that 64-bit Windows users install the inferior 64-bit version and, they rather naturally, assume that they should run the 64-bit browser. That’s when they write to me, and I point them at the article I wrote telling them how to run 32-bit IE 9 on 64-bit Windows. You can say all you want that ‘normal’ users won’t try to run 64-bit IE, but they do, and they do it every day.
The far better question that those who bleed Microsoft blue should be asking is: “Why is Microsoft deliberately insisting that their 64-bit users install a second-rate version of their own flagship Web browser?” Wouldn’t it make more sense to do what all the other Web browser developers do and make the 64-bit version an experimental, optional download? That way there would be no chance of any confusion and they could be sure that every IE 9 user would get the best possible experience. It seems pretty simple to me.
Security and Web Page Compatibility Woes
4. Lack of Security
Make no mistake about it, IE 9 is much more secure than any previous version of IE, but that doesn’t mean it’s as secure as its Web browser rivals. For example, these days when attacking Web-plug ins, such as Adobe Flash is every hacker’s favorite new trick, IE 9 doesn’t alert you if you’re not running the latest plug-in, which Firefox does with Plug-in Check or automatically update them ala Chrome with its built-in PDF and Flash software. Better still, in Chrome, even if your plug-in gets hit by zero day attack, the most frequently attacked plug-ins, Adobe Flash Player and Reader, run in a sandbox so the attack can’t get to your PC’s operating system.
I also found one oddity in IE 9’s Tracking Protection feature. This idea first proposed by Mozilla is that users should be able to set their browsers so advertisers can’t track them as they go from site to site. It’s a good idea and to Microsoft’s credit they were the first to get it out the door, but… it seemed to me that if I was using two or more Tracking Protection Lists (TPLs)–Microsoft offers users five different TPLs-that when one list allowed a Web content or activity and another didn’t, IE 9 would default to allowing the tracking activity to happen.
It turns out I was right. According to research by Which? Computing, and later confirmed by researchers at Stanford University and Microsoft, IE 9 does indeed defaults to allowing tracking behavior when there’s a rules conflict. In an interview, Hachamovitch said “The primary consumer role here is choosing a list author they trust. Auditing any such list requires privacy expertise as well as technical acumen. Propping up more check-boxes is unlikely to actually help consumers.’” In short, even though you can try to combine lists for added security, Microsoft would rather you stick with one and, at this time, they don’t plan on changing this.
So, sure IE 9 is safer, but it you really want to be safe, Chrome and Firefox appear to be the better choices.
5. Lack of Compatibility
I’ll let Ed Bott, ZDNet’s resident Windows tech expert say it for me, “I’ve spent hours studying the different signals that websites and Internet Explorer can exchange with one another, and I came away with a splitting headache. More importantly, even after reading that I’ve found multiple sites that simply won’t display quite right in IE 9. On one page hosted at, the only way to get text to wrap properly was to press F12 and use the Developer Tools to send a different User-Agent string to the site.”
I don’t need headaches. Sure, I know some of you are stuck in IE6 only Web application hell, but at least there are answers for that such as Browsium just released UniBrows, Unibrows enables you to run an IE6 instance within newer, more secure, versions of IE. That’s a neat trick. But when comes to ordinary Web-browsing I got sick and tired of bad browsing experiences in the 90s, I don’t need to revisit them today.
In addition, despite all of Microsoft’s noise about supporting H.264 in the HTML 5 video standards wars, IE 9 actually does a lousy job of supporting HTML 5. In the HTML 5 Web page test, IE 9 comes behind all the other modern Web browsers.
So, do you want a great Web browser for your Windows machine, or any other system, I recommend Chrome 10. Firefox 4 also looks like its worth considering. But, IE 9? The best I can say is that if you absolutely insist on running a Microsoft browser, and you’re not running XP and you’re sure you’re running the 32-bit version then yes, it’s an acceptable choice.