In a remarkable turnaround partly fueled by the critical success of Windows 7, Microsoft has finally thrown itself 100% behind web standards encompassed by HTML 5 and CSS3.
While Apple grabbed the headlines in 2010 by releasing the iconic iPad with no support for Adobe Flash, Microsoft has targeted the first quarter of 2011 to finally produce a browser that can compete on merit with Firefox and Chrome.
Yes, it’s true that Internet Explorer continues to dominate the browser market share, somewhere in the vicinity of 50-60%. But this is a dramatic drop from the days when it crushed all comers with a whopping 90% domination in browser usage.
Internet Explorer has traditionally been buggy, slow and not entirely safe. Remember Active X Controls? The main reason was because Microsoft did not really put its heart and soul into following the directives of the W3C group. The arrival of Vista was the icing on the cake; who knows how many users threw Microsoft out the window and migrated to Apple products?
But, now things are much, much different: In an effort to be standards compliant the tech titan sought to get feedback earlier in the beta phases to help hit a moving target: The emerging html 5 and CSS 3 Standards.
The development team put in a superhuman effort to not only follow the transitional standards that will govern web 3.0 but also to engage the W3C group and help define the standards according to its decades of experience in OS and browser development.
The result is that web developers (and designers) can now build and design a site ONCE and not be concerned with re-development for particular browsers that wish to be ‘different’ and do not follow standards.
IE 9 Release Candidate, the version currently available just before public release, supports CSS3, 2D transforms, HTML5 and other semantic elements.
In plain English, CSS 3 stands for the third version of Cascading Style Sheets which govern the ‘skin’ or stylistic elements of a website including fonts, colors, line spacing, margins and background images.
However, this is just the tip of the iceberg. The main advantage of CSS is the ability to separate content from style which makes both a web designer and programmer’s job much easier when it comes to coding or formatting a website.
CSS3 is the best iteration yet of the evolving standards but this is not the only good news. As the web evolves from static to dynamic content, the browser will start to feel more like a desktop.
But, to do this HTML 5 had to do a few things differently. For instance, you no longer need separate downloadable software like Flash to play video. This is now native in the standard.
What IE9 has done is make the browser work even more closely with the hardware including the Graphics Processing Unit (GPU). This means the browser is fast. No, make that CRAZY FAST.
It’s so fast that Microsoft is claiming that it leaves Chrome in the dust and they can prove it. Check out this video by Mashable to see how IE9 fares in a fish tank against Chrome.
More than 2 million people have now downloaded the transitional IE9 browser in less than a week making a lot of people sit up and take notice. More than 25 million people have downloaded the precursor beta over a 5-month period.
Microsoft is also pressuring the W3C Org to include “tracking protection” lists and a “Do Not Track” header proposed by the Federal Trade Commission and something already present in the Mozilla browser. These attempts to give more privacy protection to its users will win a lot of votes for Microsoft.
In short, IE9 reflects a new love affair with web standards, especially CSS3 and HTML 5.
You can see this theme flourishing on their public site called Beauty of the Web, which articulates their progress, pride and diligence in finally adopting a policy of following web standards.
When the final version of IE9 hits the World Wide Web, Microsoft may be able to pronounce itself the browser comeback kid of 2011.
Guest Blogger: Jason Stevens from jason-stevens.com / Freelance web developer, tech writer and follower of cloud computing trends. Follow him on Twitter @_jason_stevens_
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