Microsoft Internet Explorer 9 review

The latest version of Microsoft's web browser is finally out of beta, but is it really that much better than Firefox or Chrome?

IE9's performance doesn't simply rely on graphics power, though. Microsoft has rewritten its JavaScript engine, and added support for all the new web standards including HTML5, CSS3 and SVG. Chrome and Firefox have worked with HTML5 for a while now, but Firefox's support was quite limited until recently. Microsoft is keen to point out that it has been involved in developing CSS3 and SVG, so IE9 should render websites at least as precisely as its rivals.

In our tests, it didn't quite match Chrome, though. For example, in the Acid 3 test, IE9 failed to colour one of the boxes in blue and didn't render the drop shadow, scoring 95/100. Chrome's render was spot on, and scored full marks.

The release version of IE9 certainly felt at least as quick as Chrome at loading sites, and is considerably quicker at starting up and loading your home page than IE8. In benchmark tests, Chrome tended to be a few tenths of a second faster at loading the BBC's homepage and Google.co.uk, but was over a second quicker at loading our own website.

We particularly liked the Choose Add-ons box that opens up when you first fire up the browser. It allows you to disable any add-ons which could cause pages to load more slowly. On our test laptop, AVG's SafeSearch was adding almost 2 seconds to page loading times the rest were tiny fractions of a second. This allows you to get the best out of IE9 without having to delve into menus to find these settings.

Security has been beefed up, with Tracking Protection preventing sites from collecting and sharing data with other sites. This feature relies either on third-party lists of compliant sites or you can choose to block sites manually, but the interface for doing so is confusing and not at all clear. It can also block tracking cookies, which can prevent those annoying targeted adverts across different websites. There's also SmartScreen which scans downloads for malware and phishing protection to help protect you from accidentally visiting websites that want to steal your data.

There's one snag that can't be avoided: the lack of Windows XP support. This makes IE9 irrelevant for many users still using XP, including many businesses. They will either have to stick with IE8, or switch to an alternative.

So what's our verdict?

Verdict

As welcomes as the changes in IE9 are, we’re not convinced they're enough to persuade many to ditch Chrome or Firefox as their everyday browser. However, firing up IE to install a new browser might not be the first thing you choose to do on a new computer any longer. Businesses still running XP are left in the dark, and could be tempted to move to Chrome or Firefox if they already haven't.

Operating system: Windows Vista Service Pack 2 or later

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