The software giant released a public sneak peek of its newest browser, Internet Explorer 9 (IE9), aimed at web developers and the technically brave of heart.
Although the browser is in such an early stage of development that it cannot even be called a “beta version”, it is possible to download the platform preview to see demonstrations of the new features.
“The Platform Preview, and the feedback loop it is part of, marks a major change from previous IE releases,” said Dean Hachamovich, the browser team’s general manager, in a statement issued today before he took the stage at MIX10, Microsoft’s web developer conference, to publicly launch IE9.
Hachamovich promised that Microsoft would update the IE9 preview about every eight weeks, putting the first such update in mid-May with another to follow in mid-July. He did not, however, disclose a release schedule for the successor to 2009’s IE8, the browser bundled with Windows 7.
“While it loads and renders web pages using the Internet Explorer 9 platform, it is not designed to be a complete web browser,” Microsoft said in a fact sheet that accompanied the preview’s announcement. “This build is simply a first look at the work Microsoft has done so far and is ready to share with its developer community.”
Missing from the browser are critical user navigation tools such as the address bar, as well as security features like the SmartScreen anti-malware filter and IE8’s private browsing mechanism.
To give website designers, application developers, and others who want to track the new browser’s progress a chance to try IE9, Microsoft has created what it called a “Test Drive” site that showcases the features and enhancements included in the preview.
The Platform Preview will run only in Windows 7, Windows Vista Service Pack 2 (SP2) and Windows Server R2. The latter two operating systems require the Platform Update that Microsoft shipped last October. That update was notable for adding other Windows 7 features, such as that operating system’s ribbon-style interface, to Vista last year.
However, the preview will not run on Windows XP, the operating system that accounts for more than 71% of all Microsoft-made operating systems in use worldwide.
Analysts believe Internet Explorer 9 could help Microsoft to arrest the slide in its browser share, which has seen nearest rival, Mozilla’s Firefox, slowly increasing its footprint in the browser market at the expense of Microsoft.
“Microsoft wants to be more than a follower or just on features parity,” said Sheri McLeish, an analyst at Forrester. “And they’ve created a whole new team for Internet Explorer. Microsoft is clearly taking the browser seriously again.”
Unlike full-fledged editions of IE, the IE9 Platform Preview does not replace existing versions of IE, such as IE7 on Vista or IE8 on Windows 7, but runs alongside them on the same PC.