Internet Explorer 9, one of the most radical overhauls of Microsoft's venerable Web browser officially launched less than a month ago, and many people have not even tried it. So imagine their shock when Microsoft announced at MIX 2011 the availability of the Internet Explorer 10 Platform Preview.
Granted, this is not a full-blown Web browser and crashes too frequently for any average person to consider using it, but its very existence puts consumers and competitors on notice: Microsoft is picking up the pace. No, it's not quite Google pace. Internet Explorer 9 does not quietly update behind the scenes every time you launch it—instead updates will likely come through Windows Update. Internet Explorer 9 actually took a solid year to make it from its own platform preview to launch. On the other hand, it was a solid year between IE8's launch and the first IE9 platform preview and a full 24 months between releases, so maybe Microsoft is tightening things up.
Microsoft isn't saying when IE10 will launch, though it does promise code refreshes every 12 weeks (that's not quite three months to you and I). I do hope, though, that the 12-weeks-between-updates schedule does not add up to a full 52 weeks of development. Microsoft should continue tightening the development cycle until it's only six months between major releases.
Curious to see exactly what magic I'd find in the next major Internet Explorer release, I downloaded the IE10 Platform Preview and was surprised to find that that it looks almost exactly the same as IE9's platform preview interface. What, exactly, is the purpose of stripping away the whole interface again? Does Microsoft plan on anther redesign?
To be fair, a platform preview is designed for developers and is meant to help Web site builders get a feel for the new browser platform and to help Microsoft fix their new code through constant bug and debugging reports (they like to call these "telemetry reports"). All those interface accoutrements, like an address bar, next and previous page buttons, home, favorites, tools, etc, might get in the way of all that evaluation. Speaking of bug reports, after I downloaded the preview, it crashed while I was on Microsoft's own HTML5 demonstration site. Like I said, not ready for prime time or prime consumers.
Speaking of HTML5, that non-standard standard appears to be at the heart of this browser update, though the details of exactly what HTML5 goodness IE10 will offer over IE9 are somewhat thin. According to the press release, IE10 adds support for CSS3 gradients on background images and CSS3 Flexible Box layout. There are demos of these new abilities on the Internet Explorer 10 Test Drive Page. They're not that exciting. The gradient maker, which uses two Hexadecimal codes to create an on-the-fly background gradient from one hex color to another, was interesting, but it appears to work equally well in Google Chrome 10.
I suspect that as we get closer to the second Internet Explorer 10 code release, Microsoft will reveal a bit more information about the differences between IE9 and IE10. Certainly, there will be better hardware acceleration access demonstrations and more HTML5 SVG demos which may be more exciting than moving around some boxes on a CSS table.
What actually matters, though, is that Microsoft finally understands why Google is always talking about Chrome. Even if the latest Chrome update is not a big deal, the steady flow of changes keeps Google's browser top of mind: people are always talking about, thinking about, and considering using Google Chrome. It's part of how Chrome grew to over 10 percent browser share (it's 30% among visitors of PCMag.com) in less than three years. To Google's credit, most of the updates have been fairly significant—at least as it relates to speed.
Now Microsoft gets it and, whether or not they have a fully working version for everyone, they want everyone thinking about Internet Explorer, the current version and what's coming next. Teasing Internet Explorer 10 is not, in fact, about getting people to try IE10. Instead, it's a way to get more people to use Internet Explorer 9. Early adopters and consumers may do so in greater numbers because they've now seen a hazy roadmap of the near future. Why not ride that train all the way in? How do you do that? You hop on IE9 now.
This is savvy browser strategy. Thanks, Microsoft, for finally figuring it out.