I got a guided tour of Microsoft's new IE9 browser here at SWSW, and saw several features that I believe raise the bar for web browsers.
Microsoft platform strategy adviser Hong Choing explained that the main idea behind the IE9 is to get the browser out of the way of the content. In other words, the web content should be out front, while the browser takes up minimal space on the screen. The large bar of icons and windows and tools at the top of the browser has been reduced to a simple strip of space containing an address bar and little else. (Also see "Internet Explorer 9: Hands on with the Release Candidate.")
At the bottom of the screen you see a row of square icons for various web pages. You create these icon links yourself. When you go to a web page you like, you can just drag a piece of content by the address bar down to the bottom of the screen and "pin" it to the stripe of browser there. The icons themselves are dynamic. For instance, if you are on another page with a download completes on the page corresponding with the icon, the icon starts to blink. If the icon is for an e-mail page, a number appears over the icon showing the number of new e-mails in your inbox.
When you mouse over these icons they show a list of various parts of the website so you can go to a specific page with a single click. You can choose these items as well.
For the website developer, Choing says, it costs only a few hours of programming and a couple hours of testing to build the "pin" functionality into their site.
Microsoft borrowed a trick from Chrome by making the address bar double as a search box. You begin entering a search term, and the Bing search engine immediately begins pulling up real-time search results as you type. If the list of "guesses" contains the content you're looking for, you just click on it and you're there.
IE9, Choing says, does one thing that no other browsers do right now. When the browser displays a page with a lot of moving animation, it tells the graphics card in the computer to accelerate, so that the images render much faster and more dynamically. Choing displayed a web page containing hundreds of colorful little fish all moving in the water in their own ways at the same time. This graphics- and movement-heavy animation displayed in brilliant color and smooth motion.
This graphics acceleration capability will be loved by game developers who want to create online gaming environments with constant movement at high graphical quality.
Because Microsoft is a major player in the standards body that's trying to finalize HTML5, it put its version of the language in the new browser. Websites written with HTML5 can work across platforms, on different kinds of operating systems -- Mac, PC and mobile browsers. So developers using HTML5 need to design only one version of their site, which of course drives down production costs.
Microsoft has scheduled an event here at SXSW to launch IE9 Monday, and the browser will become available for download Monday night at 11 p.m. Central Time. If you simply can't wait to see it, you can download the "release candidate" here.