New features in Internet Explorer 9 RC

Five months after taking a look at its first Beta version, we’re finally able to test Internet Explorer 9 Release Candidate. At first sight it may seem that nothing has changed since that first beta. However, a deeper look soon reveals small appearance and performance improvements, as well as new features related mainly to security.

As for appearance, Internet Explorer 9 RC has applied a few minor changes: tabs are now squared (no rounded corners anymore), and the design of the buttons inside the address bar has been improved. There’s also a new option to show tabs on a separate row, for those who prefer having the address bar on one line, and the tab bar on another.

Talking about functionality, IE9 includes everything we already saw in the Beta version: Webslices, a new Download manager, a Performance advisor for add-ons, inPrivate browsing and the ability to pin specific websites to the superbar in Windows, among others.

But there are also new features, especially in the Safety menu. One is Tracking Protection, which enables you to block certain websites to track data about your online activities. In this way, when you visit multiple web pages that serve content from the same provider, you’ll prevent that provider from sharing that information about your visits. Tracking Protection works with lists, which you can fill automatically or by manually choosing the sites you’d like to block from tracking you.

The other new feature in Internet Explorer 9 RC is ActiveX Filtering. This filter enables you to switch ActiveX elements off while you’re browsing the web for an extra layer of security. When the feature is on, you can turn it off again for certain websites by clicking the filter button in the address bar.

Regarding performance, we’ve tested Internet Explorer 9 RC against other popular browsers (Opera, Chrome, Firefox and Safari, as well as the Beta version of IE9). These are our findings in terms of performance, speed and compatibility with web standards.

Browser Sunspider Benchmark Acid 3 ECMA Script 5 HTML5 Test Fishtank HTML5 Canvas Indep. HTML5 Canvas Peace
Opera 11.01 281,5ms 100% 47,09% 177+7/300 22-24fps 14,77fps 6960
Chrome 9b 274,9ms 100% 81,80% 242+13/300 26-29fps 31fps 7854
Firefox 4b11 289,3ms 97% 91,26% 207+9/300 55-59fps 1 fps 3975
Safari 5.0.3 403,8ms 100% 71,68% 150/300 fail/freezes fail/freezes 4040
IE 9 RC 241,0ms 95% 15,94% 116+5/300 45-48fps 6,30fps 4869
IE 9 Beta 378,2ms 95% 16,26% 96+3/300 45-48fps 2505

Internet Explorer 9 obtains the best result in the Sunspider Benchmark, higher even than the Beta version. However, it’s still the web browser with the lowest score in the Acid 3 test, which measures compatibility with modern web standards. Things don’t get better in the HTML5 test, where Internet Explorer 9 RC still has major weaknesses and falls behind the other browsers. The other two HTML5 tests confirm that Internet Explorer 9 still has room for improvement in this area. The last benchmark, Peacekeeper, delivers much better results than the Beta version, though Chrome is the absolute winner here.

In conclusion, the Release Candidate of Internet Explorer 9 is much improved over the Beta version five months ago, especially in terms of speed and performance. Firefox and Opera are also fighting hard, but Chrome is definitely the point of reference in most tests.

The RC version keeps all the nice features from the Beta, and adds a couple of interesting security tools. Besides those, there are not many changes in comparison with the Beta. In all, Internet Explorer 9 seems to be the safest, easiest to use and most polished version of Microsoft’s web browser so far, but only time will tell if it’s finally ready to beat its competitors in the browser wars.

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