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Microsoft Internet Explorer 10

  • Category: Software
  • Review Date: 11/15/2012
  • Bottom line: IE10 is certainly the best browser for Windows 8, adding speed and support for touch interfaces, but Chrome still leads overall.
  • Pros: Fast. High HTML5 compatibility. Excellent touch input conveniences. Full-screen view.
  • Cons: Split personality on Windows 8's two very different interfaces. Still missing some HTML5 features.
Editor Rating: 4.00

By Michael Muchmore

Internet Explorer 10 is an integral component of Windows 8. Not only does it enable touch browsing on tablets running the new OS, but actually powers some of its new-style Windows 8 apps. Until very recently, IE10 was only available for Windows 8, clearly the focus of development for Microsoft over the past year. But now the hundreds of millions of Windows 7 users can enjoy the new browser's superior speed and standards support. They also don't have to deal with one of the main problems with IE10 on Windows 8, the confusion between two flavors—the full-screen, touch-focused new-style incarnation and the familiar desktop version.

In Windows 8, it's still true that Internet Explorer 10, leads a double life. You can run it as a new-style full screen app or you can run it in the traditional Windows desktop view. Underneath, however, both of these as well as the Windows 7 edition use the same rendering engine. Currenty, the Windows 7 version is dubbed a "preview," and it's available for download from IETestdrive.com.

Internet Explorer 9 improved on version 8 considerably in both speed and support of HTML5 and CSS3 features, but it still was way behind the competition from Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Opera in the standards support department. With IE10, Microsoft's browser not only gets right in the fray with HTML5 and CSS3 support, but even offers features not found in the others, like HTML5 touch input support.

One gauge of HTML5 readiness is the HTML5Test.com site, which reports a score based on how many HTML5 features it supports, along with bonus points for non-standard-specific extras like video codecs. Out of a possible 500, IE9 earned a score of 138 with 5 bonus points, compared with 448 and 13 bonus for Google Chrome. IE10 changes this picture considerably, with a score of 320 and 6 bonus points.

But that score isn't the whole story. Far from it. HTML5Test.com merely checks that the feature is recognized, not whether it's correctly implemented. On the IETestdrive site, Microsoft has published dozens of proof-of-concept demos showing exactly what a lot of these HTML5 features can do. You can peruse the IEBlog to read about the tons of work the IE team has done to add bleeding-edge support to the browser. Though it's often stated that Chrome and Firefox are ahead of IE in HTML5 support, some of the test drive demos show that those browsers haven't yet implemented every capability. One example is Touch Events, which lets a webpage respond to gestures.

HTML5Test.com Score (out of 500, higher is better) Bonus points (for non-official support, such as extra video codecs)
Google Chrome 23 448 13
Opera 12.10 404 9
Firefox 16 372 10
Internet Explorer 10 320 6
Internet Explorer 9 138 5


Atop all those underlying Web technology updates, however, there's an app interface you use to browse the Web, and the main changes here are in the new-style, full-screen version of IE10. Let's look at how this clean, minimalist design, full-screen, touch-friendly new interface handles your daily browsing needs. After that, I'll look at some comparative benchmark numbers.

Internet Explorer 10's Touch-Centric User Interface
Like other new-style Windows 8 applications, this flavor of IE10 runs in full screen view, letting your Web pages completely take over. To access any browser controls, you do what you'd do with any other Metro app: Right-click, or on a tablet, swipe in from the bottom or top of the screen. This drops down large thumbnails of all your open webpage tabs, along with a Plus sign button to open a new tab, and a "…" button that offers InPrivate browsing or lets you close all tabs except the selected one.

After a right-click or swipe in from bottom or top on a tablet, in addition to the tab thumbnails along the top, along the bottom of the screen will also pop up your address bar, along with a back arrow and buttons for refreshing, pinning sites, settings, and forward. The placement of the back arrow at the leftmost point and forward as the last button on the right is well-suited to tablet browsing, but on a laptop or desktop, having them next to each other is preferable.

Central to IE10's touch sensitivity is swiping. You can swipe right and left with a single finger to go back and forward in your webpage browsing history, but be careful not to start from the side edges of the screen, or you'll switch apps or invoke the charm menu. A helpful feature for mouse users are the on-screen arrows that appear when your cursor nears the sides of the screen, so you can go back and forward without invoking the app bar.

There's also a new trick called "flip ahead." This is similar to a feature Opera debuted several years ago: the browser analyses the current page to see which is most likely to be next, letting you swipe forward without having previously navigated to the page. The first time you use this feature, a notification bar will ask if you're okay with the privacy concerns of sending your browsing history to Microsoft to enable this feature.

The Pin button, looking like a pushpin, works quite differently than it does in IE9 under Windows 7. It creates a tile on the Start screen that opens the browser to the pinned page. This seems to detract from IE9's emphasis on pinning sites to the taskbar, though you can still do this in the desktop version of IE10. Most Start screen tiles I created by pinning only showed the standard blue IE tile and logo, but some sites, such as PCMag.com customized the tile's color and logo.

For certain sites, the settings wrench button is already graced with a Plus sign, meaning a "Get App for this Site" choice is added to its context menu. When I went to Cut the Rope's Web version, this option took me to the Windows Store to install the app. But I still came upon several sites that do have apps (like USAToday) yet don't have this option from the wrench icon. In any case, the distinction between app and website is starting to blur, with websites able to do much that only apps could do in the past, thanks to HTML5 and CSS3.

The settings wrench button offers two more important actions: Find on page, and View on the desktop. The first is thankfully still also available with a hit of the Ctrl-F key combo—a shortcut I use incessantly. The info-bar along the bottom shows how many find hits there are, and those are all highlighted on the page itself. The View on desktop choice will be indispensable for those who need traditional windows features like overlapping windows and toolbars.

The right-click presents a problem for sophisticated Web users, however. In all other browsers, including IE9 and IE10 on the desktop, right-clicking opens a menu offering information and actions. In fact, one of IE's hallmark features has been Accelerators, which you get to with a right click. For new-style IE10, those are all gone. I often right-click on an image to see its pixel size or source url, no more. Doing so (or holding your finger down on a tablet) does open a simple context menu offering Copy, Copy link, Open link in new tab, and Save to picture library.

When you click into IE10's address bar to start entering a URL, colored tiles showing your frequently visited and pinned sites pop up above it. Once you start entering characters, popular site suggestions pop up in smaller blue tiles. One convenience that warms the cockles of my heart and that Microsoft finally has included in a browser—Paste and Go. This saves you a click every time you enter a URL from the clipboard, but unfortunately, it's only in the new-style version of the browser, not the desktop one.

Page zooming works well in both touch tablets, with an "unpinch" gesture, and on the desktop, using Ctrl-mouse wheel. Firefox, too, supports pinch zoom, but the response was smoother in IE10. The Ctrl-+ and Ctrl- keyboard shortcuts still zoom and unzoom, too. And another welcome touch is pop-up blocking—it worked well for blocking automatic advertising popups, but if I specifically clicked on a link that opened a window, I was taken to a new tab. Since it's full-screen, there are no overlapping windows; for that you need to go to desktop IE10.

Another expected browser convenience included in full-screen IE10 is password saving, which is clearly handled. But say goodbye to history and favorites managers (or go to the desktop for them). Hitting Ctrl-H or Ctrl-B does nothing. The new browser does, however, handle downloads with the same security and options to run or save as IE9. But again, Ctrl-D doesn't open the nonexistent download manager, and I wish that in addition to Run and Close you got a Show in Explorer choice after a download; you'll have to simply open your Downloads folder.

As does any well-behaved new-style Windows 8 app, IE10 takes good advantage of the Share charm. I could send any webpage link—along with a thumbnail preview—via email, or, using the People app, I could share it as a Facebook post or Twitter tweet. This integration does indeed help with easy sharing of pages that strike your fancy.

One thing missing here is any help on the new tab page—I mean any on the page itself. When I opened a new tab without entering a url and tapped on the screen, my Pinned and Frequent site tiles and the address bar does appear along the bottom of the screen. I could also right-click on the laptop or swipe in from the edges on the tablet. But if I didn't take advantage of any of this, I could still end up with a completely blank white screen.

The tab system works adequately, and makes sense for touch input, where it's probably better than standard browser tabs across the top. But on a desktop, this tab system is less immediate than the typical browser tabs. Another choice I'd like to see from the "…" menu is to reopen closed tabs, since you don't get this on the new tab page.

Desktop IE10
Heading over to the desktop version of IE10, you'd be hard pressed to detect any difference from IE9. The desktop version is your fallback if you miss things like right-clicking on webpages for information, a full history and favorites panel, plugins, and multiple browser windows. Of course, the underlying page-rendering engines are the same new, faster, more standards-supporting ones used by the new full-screen app form of Internet Explorer 10. As we'll see in the next section, there are performance differences, too.

Performance
To see how IE10 compares with the other two leading browsers, Firefox and Chrome, in terms of performance, I ran a few standard industry JavaScript benchmarks—SunSpider, Google V8, and Mozilla Kraken, along with a couple of tests of hardware acceleration from Microsoft's IETestdrive site. I used a lovely new Samsung Series 9 ultrabook with a 1.6GHz Core i5 processor and 4GB of RAM, running 64-bit Windows 8 Pro for the first four tests, and a Windows 8 tablet (specs below) for the last. No apps beside the browser were running during testing.

The first test I ran was good old Sunspider; most browsers have optimized up to the hilt for this JavaScript benchmark. Nevertheless, it's a good opening ante speed test. A striking thing I noticed was that the desktop version of IE10 consistently delivered a score of about 10ms better than the new full-screen version. Not really a significant difference, but perhaps worth noting. What was significant was how much faster IE10 was than Chrome on this test, by nearly 100ms—a third again faster. Firefox was only marginally better than Chrome on this test, while Opera held up the rear.

Sunspider 0.9.1

Milliseconds (lower is better)

Internet Explorer 10 (desktop)

174

Internet Explorer 10 (new-style)

187

Firefox 14

249

Google Chrome 23

255

Opera 12.10

294

The next test I ran was Google's new Octane benchmark. One would certainly expect Google's own browser, Chrome, to ace this one. And indeed that turns out to be the case: Chrome achieved more than double IE10's performance on this test. Again, I saw the disparity between new-style and desktop IE performance, with the benefit going to desktop. Firefox came in second here, with Opera in the middle. Note that IE7 doesn't run this benchmark.

Google Octane v1

Score (higher is better)

Google Chrome 23

10152

Firefox 16

6766

Opera 12.10

4161

Internet Explorer 10 (desktop)

4174

Internet Explorer 10 (Metro)

3555

Mozilla's Kraken benchmark takes longer to run and the organization claims it's a better representation of actual Web browsing patterns. In this benchmark, we see a similar pattern as for V8, but with an important difference. Chrome again comes in first and Firefox second, but this time Metro IE10 beats out its more traditional alter-ego. Perhaps there's something to that "real-world" stuff after all.

Mozilla Kraken 1.1

Milliseconds (lower is better)

Google Chrome 23

3235

Firefox 16

3714

Internet Explorer 10 (Metro)

6892

Internet Explorer 10 (desktop)

8400

Opera 12.10

11742

Next I ran a couple tests from the IETestdrive collection. One of these, Psychedelic Browsing, is a test of a browser's use of graphics hardware to accelerate Web page rendering. This test spins a color wheel as fast as the browser can handle, and plays a spacy sound effect using HTML5.

I should note that IE10 limits hardware acceleration when the tablet or laptop is running on battery power, in my tests resulting in a still-accelerated result of 1820 RPM on the Psychedelic test. A Microsoft engineer told me that "this approach has a huge positive impact on power—often hours. Chrome and Firefox don’t follow these power efficient patterns and will continue to use high frequencies when on battery. This allows Chrome/Firefox to report higher scores, but prevents the CPU from sleeping for very long durations, and consumes up to 4x the power." With the power plugged in, IE10's score shot up to 3607.

Opera has hardware acceleration when run with some graphics processors; on my test machine, enabling acceleration brought it's score to 1387, but the test was misrendered.

Psychedelic Browsing

RPM (higher is better)

Internet Explorer 10 (desktop)

4040 (correct sound)

Internet Explorer 10 (new-style)

3607 (correct sound)

Google Chrome 23

2936 (correct sound)

Firefox 14

2730 (no sound)

Opera 12.10

78 (no sound)

A newer IETestdrive benchmark of hardware acceleration is the Particle acceleration benchmark. I ran this one on an 1.6GHz Intel Core i5 tablet with 4GB memory running 64-bit Windows 8 Pro. This displays a rolling sphere of molecule representations, and reports draw time, frames per second, and a score. I recorded the highest scores observed, since the benchmark runs continuously.

HTML5 Particle Acceleration Benchmark

Draw Time (milliseconds- lower is better)

FPS (higher is better)

Score (higher is better)

Internet Explorer 10 (desktop)

9

60

57,444

Internet Explorer 10 (Metro)

9

60

57,734

Firefox 16

11

60

59,991

Chrome 23

17

60

77,734

Opera 12.10

70

14

13,950

Achieving 60 frames per second is a pass for this test, since that's the screen refresh rate of the LCD. Of browsers that hit that mark, IE10 in both versions had the fastest draw time, but Chrome got the top score. Firefox was surprisingly good at this test, beating out Chrome in draw time, while Opera again trailed on this benchmark.

In a more real-world test of browser page-loading speed, though IE10 has been found to outstrip Chrome, Firefox, and the rest. New Relic, a Web monitoring service that measures the performance of 40 billion page views per month, found in its Real User Monitoring data that the average response time for IE10 was significantly faster than all other browsers, the only one returning a time under 4 seconds.

Security and Privacy
The title of a recent blog post by our security guru Neil Rubenking pretty much tells the story when it comes to security in IE10: Windows 8's Internet Explorer 10 Reigns Supreme in Browser Safety Test. IE continues to protect you against nefarious downloads, with its SmartScreen. The technology uses “download reputation” ratings to let you know which downloads are reliable. In a test by NSS Labs, its Internet Explorer 10 browser detected and blocked over 99 percent of malicious downloads without any help from a third-party antivirus program. Another protection is that Internet Explorer Plugins run in sandboxes to prevent access to the rest of the system. Privacy has for a while been a hot-button issue, especially privacy in browsers.

IE9 introduced Tracking Protection in late 2010, to block third-party websites that you never intended to visit from collecting your browsing history and building a profile on you. Soon after this, Mozilla came out with the Do Not Track, system which simply sends a small bit of text to website asking them not to allow tracking of you. When Microsoft announced that in IE10, Do Not Track would be turned on by default, the web ad business threw conniption fits, even though research had told Microsoft that 75 percent of users wanted the protection turned on by default. At this point, ad networks are pretty much ignoring the Do Not Track token, as my testing demonstrated.

For local privacy, IE10 offers InPrivate browsing mode, which will not save any browsing history, downloads, or site cookies after your session is finished. This feature is offered by all browsers these days, and can be useful protection against snooping housemates.

A Brave New Way to Browse
When you're browsing the Web, you don't really want to think about or see the browser's interface: You want to see the webpage you're visiting. The Metro version of Internet Explorer 10 takes this view to the extreme, when you're on a page, you only see the page—there's zero browser interface. And with Web sites becoming more like applications all the time, this immersive view is more important than ever.

Web apps, too, need more than simple Web page display in order to be fully functional, and IE10's much-improved HTML5 support allows them to do nearly anything an installed application can. Finally, for all this to happen in a way that will please users, it's got to be fast. IE10 is fast, but it's not the leader on most of my tests. And I was surprised that the desktop version made a better showing than the new full-screen version. Perhaps this is because Microsoft has had longer to optimize the desktop version, or the Metro version introduces another layer on top of the OS kernel.

IE10 is probably the best touchscreen optimized browser around today—and I've looked at a bunch of them for the iPad as well. Its large, touchable tiles helpfully take the place of tabs in other mobile browsers, and swiping ahead and back to Web pages is a natural gesture. Maybe most important of all is its full screen view, which some iPad competitors do offer, and if you need multiple windows, plugins, or any of the other traditional browser tools like a history and favorites pane or a download manager, the desktop version of the browser is always there for you.

There's no doubt that IE10 is the fastest, most Web-standard compliant, and leanly interfaced version of Internet Explorer we've ever seen, though it doesn't lead competitors like Chrome and Firefox on some of these measures. In terms of standard support Internet Explorer becomes a truly modern browser with version 10. It would certainly be our top pick at this point for Windows 8 browsers, but when considering the browser world as a whole, we still give the Editors' Choice to Google Chrome, with its leading speed, HTML5 support, and browsing helpers and accelerators.

This review is in partnership with PCMag.com.