Microsoft’s IE9 wins surprise praise from rival

Microsoft has won unlikely support for the latest version of its Internet Explorer browser, with the lead manager of Google’s rival product praising the company for setting the pace in software for accessing the web.

“We’re really welcoming the innovation and excited about more standards support [from Microsoft],” says Brian Rakowski.

He also conceded that the software company had stolen a march on Google in some areas but promised that similar capabilities would be included in Google’s Chrome browser in as little as two months.

The comments came as Microsoft prepared to release a version of its latest browser, IE9, for public download on Wednesday.

Competition from Google’s Chrome and the Firefox browser has led to a technology race over one of the most commonly used pieces of software, reigniting the “Browser Wars” that waged between Microsoft and Netscape in the early years of the public web.

Google’s share of the global browser market has increased steadily to 7.5 per cent, while Microsoft’s share has slipped to 60 per cent from more than 90 per cent in the middle of the last decade, according to Net Applications.

Behind its latest browser is an attempt by Microsoft to make web pages perform more like applications, bringing what it claims are faster response times and better ways of presenting and interacting with websites.

It comes as Apple has set the pace in a new way for users to access online services through internet-enabled software apps that are downloaded onto its iPhone, iPad and iPod touch.

By making it easier to tap into online services, particularly on small mobile screens, Apple’s approach has threatened to reduce the reliance on web browsers.

The technology and design changes behind IE9 “blur the distinction between apps and websites,” says Dean Hachamovitch, vice-president of browser development at Microsoft.

In what Microsoft said was a first for a web browser, IE9 will tap directly into a computer’s graphics chip, rather than just the central processing unit it has traditionally accessed. Together with ways to use more of the power in the CPU itself, this so-called “hardware acceleration” would make web pages behave more like software running directly on a machine, Mr Hachamovitch said. “It turns out that web pages can get the benefits of the hardware that ‘native’ applications can,” he said.

Mr Rakowski acknowledged that connecting directly to the graphics processor would accelerate the graphics in a web page, displaying many more frames per second. Google had built an early test version of its Chrome browser using the same technology and could release it widely within two months, he added.

In another development that won support from Google, Microsoft has added support for a number of advanced web standards in IE9. The software company has attracted criticism from some quarters of the internet industry in the past, including from Google, for not moving more quickly to support the standards, which improve the performance and capability of websites.

Google said at the time it launched Chrome that its aim was to stimulate more innovation in browsers generally to improve the performance of its services.

Microsoft has less riding on the pace of web software development given its own reliance on software that runs directly on PCs, said Matt Rosoff, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, an independent research firm. “Microsoft has always had a conflicted relationship with the browser,” he said.

However, he added that Microsoft needed to respond to the threat of Google winning more users for Chrome, particularly since it could use this to win support for its forthcoming Chrome operating system, which is intended to challenge directly Microsoft’s Windows.

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