Microsoft Corp. on Tuesday offered up a “platform preview” of its upcoming Internet Explorer 9, aimed at letting programmers and Web developers get their feet wet with the new browser.


The company unveiled the downloadable prototype, which it said would be updated every eight weeks, in a public demo at this week’s MIX10 conference in Las Vegas.


Dean Hachamovitch, general manager of Internet Explorer, spent most of his time on stage hyping IE9’s new emphasis on graphical display. The company unveiled expanded support for HTML5, Direct-X hardware-accelerated graphics and text, and a new JavaScript engine.


“We love HTML5 so much,” Hachamovitch said. “We love it so much we actually want it to work. And in IE9 it will.”


He added that GPU-accelerated HTML5 apps will feel more like real apps as opposed to a static Web page.


In a future update to its IE9 “platform preview,” Hachamovitch promised support for HTML5 video. But to wet the appetite of the Web developers in attendance, he demoed a netbook running HTML 5 video on both IE9 and Google’s Chrome browser — which predictably featured laggy video performance on Chrome and smooth performance on IE9.


Another graphics comparison between IE9, Chrome and Mozilla’s Firefox featured a spinning logo of former Microsoft Office mascot Clippy — which was also rendered faster by IE9.


With the standard itself, Microsoft made it clear that a top goal for IE9 is to support an interoperable HTML5 standard, which ensures that the same markup can be used by developers across all browsers.


“We’re trying to minimize the ‘same markup, different results,’” Hachamovitch said.


In addition to its commitment to the HTML5 standard, Microsoft affirmed its support for other standards such as Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) 3, Scalar Vector Graphics (SVG), XHTML parsing and a variety of video and audio tags. The company is looking for interoperability and consistency across all these standards, Hachamovitch added, and is also investing resources to the jQuery JavaScript Library, in an effort to improve standards-based Web apps.


Matt Rosoff, an analyst with Kirkland, Wash.-based research firm Directions on Microsoft, said the IE team is finally focusing on the right areas of improvement with its next release, which include performance for JavaScript, better support for emerging standards and standard markup, and HTML5 support.


He added that the graphics acceleration demo was very interesting and helps to bolster the idea that IE is an integral part of the Windows 7 OS.


“It seems like they’re on the right track,” he said. “More important, they’re taking the browser very seriously and taking Web standards very seriously. That’s a nice and welcome change from even five or six years ago.”


As IE9 work continues beyond this early stage developer release, Rosoff will be keeping an eye on improvements for IT, like deployment and management via group policy, and user-related security and privacy features.


Al Hilwa, a program director for IDC Corp.’s applications development software research group, said that even though the general release of IE9 is still uncertain, Microsoft’s focus on HTML5 and other standards is helping to fix the company’s image issue with developers.


“It’s clear we’re back in the battle of the browsers again,” he said, referring to its status in the development community.


Over the course of the next year, Hilwa wants to see a broad profile of tests around HTML5 video and a stronger vision for developers who are interested in Silverlight.


The IE9 “platform preview,” which currently does not come with a back button or phishing protection, is available now for developers or brave consumers.


A release date for the IE9 beta or release candidate was not announced at the conference.

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