Internet Explorer 9 reviewed – will it make web performance harder

Date: 16th September 2010
Author: Deri Jones

Update: 25 September 2010:
Looks like the folks at ZDnet are among the first to lose developer time wondering why their site has a problem with  IE9.

I’ll come clean from the start and say I’ve never been a fan of Microsoft IE Internet Explorer – just thinking about the millions of web designer man hours lost in IE5 and 6 and 7 due to all the non-standard ways Microsoft decided that Internet Explorer would render pages.  And all the painful scripting that website load testers and UAT testers have had to wrestle with.

But Internet Explorer 9  is now out and under review – but even today I’m thinking of one of our High Street clients for whom we run web site monitoring user journeys who are still using IE 6:  we see their User Agents in our logs: and they are the first to groan when the regular  improvement to our web monitoring portal ends up looking wrong in their IE… they can’t shift easily as they have Intranet apps designed around the IE6 hooks that MS uses to hold on to users.

But how does IE9 perform?  It’s not the full release of course, just IE9 Beta: showing signs that Microsoft are learning from the open source community, and from Google, and not being scared to make a splash about a Beta release.

Well some good PR spadework from Microsoft has pundits like California rock band the Killers – talking up how they hated IE in the past but have now built their new HTML5 site with IE9 very much in mind, they write:

“…the new site will also run on Chrome and Safari, but not as well. It doesn’t have that sort of snappy behavior. It just performs a lot better on IE9.”

Whilst I like the use of more HTML5 – as that is a standard and standards that work save alot of time for web site testing too  – reducing the amount of browser based testing you’re forced to go through.

I’m also concerned that if we start to see a bunch of sites optimising and tweaking for some of the Redmond-only extras that IE9 contains… well life could start to get more interesting for the whole web site performance improvement advice world.

And it looks like there may be others who Microsoft have been doing similar work with apparently  70 launch partners that have optimised their sites for IE9 – including CNN and Amazon.

Anyway, everyone says IE9 looks more minimalist, streamlined – so that’s OK.

But what’s this – it won’t run on XP?  When the majority of PCs running MS Windows (pretty exactly 2/3rds actually) are still on XP despite 2 new releases since, I guess that was an obvious commercial move – to put pressure on XP users to upgrade.

But maybe it just means XP users will continue to drop IE and continue to take up Firefox, Chrome, Opera – IE has been losing share to these other browsers continually the last year and more. And with them, you know there’s an upgrade path that has continuous new releases and continuous new features: isn’t that what Joe Average wants: a stream of ‘new updated’  all the time.  IE9 might be shiny now – but in 12 months… will it be as bad then as IE8 is now compared to it’s rivals?

Even Microsoft admit that speedwise, users of IE8 are being screwed over right now… so the quickest route for XP users to get a faster web is to download a browser, not buy and install a new OS.

Its IE9 and no IE8

Oh dear, another nuisance for the web site testing community – once you install IE9 it’s over-written  your IE8: no chance to click between two windows and compare a page in both.  Sigh. Back to the Virtual machine kind of fixes again.

The name of the speed is GPU

Ok, I’ve kept it back, but you want to know about the new use of  your PC’s backend Graphics processing unit GPU , to speed the browser up: it makes sense on paper to use the power of the GPU to impove the web users experience.  And it seems to make things faster in practise too.

Of course that by having a bunch of new hooks back into the guts of your PC, there’s more potential for software bugs or hackers to expose flaws and cause problems  – time will tell how well Microsoft have wrapped those process calls; and what kind of security updates IE9 will need in the future.

The magic new word is Chakra – MS’s new JavaScript engine – it’s giving IE9 some speed up in that department – like Chrome it makes better use of additional CPU cores in the user’s PC – and the GPU.

Speedwise – well  Microsoft reported that on September 4, 2010 the IE9 Public Beta was faster than Firefox (with TraceMonkey) and Safari, but they confessed still  slower than Opera and Chrome.

Firefox slower..but for how long?

Firefox itself is predicting a big jump up in performance for Firefox 4 – due late 2010 with the new JägerMonkey javascript engine – and the Beta is already out – and that stole IE9 thunder by already including hardware acceleration:

And Chrome too has had hardware acceleration, albeit not by default, and not consistently working on all hardware, according to some.

Of course the debate on ACID3 tests, Ajax speeds and other features won’t go away,  and this blog may be getting too techie for all but insomniacs in need of a sedative…

But for website monitoring software guys like me… I’m interested.

But in ACID3 web browser testing, the latest test of IE9 in lat August was 95/100 – versus Firefox 3.6 which has been out for a while now at 94/100.  So IE9 gets MS back in the game again…but for how long before it’s overtaken on those laast few percent.

So still more web development time to be lost to browser compatibility  interface tweaks

As some are reporting:  ‘A few sites don’t render correctly’..

So that means just another set of browser issues for hard pressed web developers.

How long before we see javascript addon libraries aimed exactly at rendering content in a  way that will work on IE9 too; like the tools that did the same for IE6 and IE7, that folks tested on their site confidence that they didn’t want to compare every page in every browser themselves.

Still that’s the world of the web – you can never stand still – you’re either learning new things that are cool and will make online life better for us all, (and for us website testing consultants too) – or else we’re learning new things that just have to be learned, are not much of a gain but get in the way if you can’t grok them.


the new site will also run on Chrome and Safari, but not as well. “It doesn’t have that sort of snappy behavior,” he said. “It just performs a lot better on IE9.Read more: