Is Internet Explorer 9 Business-Ready?

Feature Article | April 7, 2011 by Christiane Stagge

The new version of Internet Explorer contains additional functions designed to leave the competition behind (graphic: Microsoft)

IE9 contains additional functions designed to leave the competition behind (graphic: Microsoft)

Faster, simpler, more versatile – Internet Explorer 9 represents Microsoft’s latest effort to outshine Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and other Web browsers.

The new version does indeed rise above the competition with a number of innovative functions, such as multicore processor support and GPU acceleration. These enhancements enable the browser to outpace previous versions while using less energy. In addition, GPU acceleration benefits videos and podcasts in particular by transferring tasks usually performed through plug-ins by the CPU to users’ graphics cards. The new JavaScript engine “Chakra,” meanwhile, offers further increases in speed, putting considerable distance between IE9 and both Chrome and Firefox in benchmark tests.

Internet Explorer 9 truly has arrived in the Information Age with its support for HTML5, SVG, CSS3, and DOM. Web sites designed based on HTML5 and CSS3 adjust dynamically to the user’s display, be it a smartphone, laptop, or desktop PC.

After starting IE9’s beta phase early in order to obtain sufficient user feedback, Microsoft released the final version in mid-March. There’s just one small, but not insignificant, catch: Due to its gains in performance, the latest Internet Explorer no longer runs under Windows XP. The browser only supports the newer versions of Microsoft’s operating system, Windows Vista and Windows 7.

A 32-bit variant of IE9 is available for Windows Vista, while Windows 7 users can also take advantage of the browser’s 64-bit version. Many companies, however, still use Windows XP and are thus limited to Internet Explorer 8. So, is the browser worth the upgrade? What about the transition to Windows 7?

The following pages will tell you everything you need to know about IE9 with respect to:

IE9 displays your frequently visited Web sites when you open a new tab (Ctrl + T)  (screenshot: Microsoft)

IE9 displays your frequently visited Web sites when you open a new tab (Ctrl + T) (screenshot: Microsoft)

Usability

Immediately upon opening Internet Explorer 9, you’ll notice its slimmed-down user interface: The number of buttons has been reduced to the bare essentials – forward and backward – and the only other elements are the unified search and address bar and the homepage, favorites, and options menus. The usual menu, favorites, and status bars are no longer visible by default, but you can display them manually by pressing the “Alt” key.

One of the practical features Windows 7 users can look forward to is the ability to pin their favorite sites directly to the taskbar. Simply click on the desired browser tab, drag it to the taskbar, and release it when the Web site icon appears. Hovering over the new taskbar item with the mouse then displays a thumbnail preview of the site. As a special added service, users who pin Facebook in this way will also see a small red number at the corner of the icon when they receive new notifications.

Opening multiple tabs in the same window is nothing new; Firefox and Chrome also offer this function. IE9, however, goes them one better by making it possible to manipulate individual tabs. No longer fixed in a browser window, tabs can be rearranged in different orders, dragged to different locations on the desktop, and positioned side-by-side. Users can thus compare two sites without having to open a new window.

InPrivate mode prevents the user’s online activity from being tracked and stored  (screenshot: Microsoft)

InPrivate mode prevents the user’s online activity from being tracked and stored (screenshot: Microsoft)

Security

Security is a key aspect of any browser – especially in a business setting. The consequences of allowing a Trojan, virus, or other form of malware to find its way into a company’s network can be catastrophic.

According to NSS Labs, Microsoft remains the clear front-runner in this area. IE9 offers numerous security functions that protect users better than any other browser.

Its SmartScreen filter technology, for example, ascertains how long files have been available for download online and whether their risk potential has already been assessed. If one has already been flagged as dangerous, the filter presents a warning to the user. SmartScreen Application Reputation, meanwhile, communicates the name of the file in question to Microsoft’s security service.

IE9’s URL filter checks all Web sites users visit against a list of known phishing sites by comparing IP addresses and sending the results to Microsoft through an SSL connection. The browser then blocks any sites Microsoft has classified as threats.

The download manager in IE9 also prevents downloads from phishing sites while monitoring the user’s downloaded files in a central repository. In another practical feature, the manager can resume interrupted downloads right where they left off.

Meanwhile, admins can use the Tracking Protection function to keep Web sites from storing and tracking data on search terms and online purchases. The “do-not-track” option makes it possible to systematically blacklist Web networks that collect and archive information on surfing behavior.

With InPrivate mode, you can surf the Internet in full privacy, secure in the knowledge that no data, histories, temporary files, or cookies will be stored on your computer. To activate this mode, simply press the “Control” and “P” keys at the same time.

Finally, the ActiveX filter in the new release of Internet Explorer is now equipped with extended functions. Among other enhancements, the filter gives admins more diverse options in specifying which ActiveX elements should be loaded.

Tracking Protection enables admins to block entire Web sites (screenshot: Microsoft)

Tracking Protection enables admins to block entire Web sites (screenshot: Microsoft)

Internet Explorer 9 for business – is it worth the upgrade?

Internet Explorer is still the world’s most-used browser, enjoying an impressive 90% market share in China alone. As mentioned, however, many companies still use Windows XP, and IE9 only works in Windows Vista and Windows 7.

The question remains: Is the new version worth the switch? Or even the transition to a new operating system?

IE9 scores major points with its speed, and not only in surfing – even the installation process is considerably faster. It also enables admins to set up more than 1,500 different group policies, which can, for example, prevent users from switching off the SmartScreen filter or other security features without authorization. From Tracking Protection to the SmartScreen filter to ActiveX restrictions, no browser offers more security functions – and all of them can be preconfigured.

While IE9’s highly streamlined user interface leaves little room for add-ons in its standard form, you can download a number of enhancements at www.ieaddons.com. Those who use Windows 7 and are interested in the 64-bit variant of IE9 may want to think it over: This version is considerably slower than its 32-bit counterpart because it does not yet take advantage of the JavaScript engine “Chakra.”

Users who plan to stick with IE8 can make sure that Windows Update does not automatically install IE9 by employing the IE9 Blocker Toolkit. Those who use WSUS or Systems Management Server for updates won’t need this kit.

What to remember when installing IE9

Companies that are thinking about installing IE9 are advised to download the Internet Explorer Administration Kit (IEAK). With the help of this tool, admins can customize the browser by integrating their company’s logo, implementing various settings, and making other modifications.

Will IE9 display all of your Web sites correctly? Will your intranet still work? Will there be any problems with your CMS? The Application Compatibility Toolkit makes it possible to test these and other browser-related aspects. The Microsoft Assessment and Planning Toolkit, meanwhile, provides information on how many PCs have IE9 installed and how many ActiveX controls have been deployed.

And what about SAP applications – are they compatible with IE9? According to SDN, SAP does not yet support the new browser release. A number of users reported problems with SAP GUI 7.20 after downloading a beta version of IE9; following installation, various content was no longer properly displayed.

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