March 18, 2010, 8:55 PM — The Internet Explorer 9 Platform Preview exhibits to good effect two of what Microsoft says will be the new browser's selling points: speed and HTML 5 support. If the final version is as fast as or faster than the preview, IE will no longer be a laggard in the browser race and will most likely beat out Firefox. HTML 5 support is a nice extra, but it's still too early to tell how important that will be.
At this point, the IE9 Platform Preview is little more than a browser display engine, and it isn't intended for users. Instead, it's Microsoft's attempt to give developers a heads-up about where the browser is headed. There's no address bar, no navigation features or Favorites, no Back or Forward buttons, no multiple tabs, no malware protection or other basic or advanced browser features. To visit a Web site, you have to press Ctrl-O, type in the URL and then press Enter. When you click a hyperlink that would normally open a new window, that page will open in your default browser.
Not surprisingly, the IE9 Platform Preview doesn't replace your existing version of IE. Instead, it runs alongside it. It cannot be set as your default browser. It runs only with Windows Server 2008 R2, Windows Vista Service Pack 2 or Windows 7. To run it on Vista SP2 and Windows Server R2, you'll need the Platform Update. It won't run on Windows XP -- now, or when it finally ships, according to Microsoft.
The need for speed
IE8 and previous versions of IE have been criticized for being far slower than competing browsers such as Firefox and Chrome, and tests have proved that out. The IE9 Platform Preview fixes that problem. In my testing on two PCs -- one with Windows Vista and other with Windows 7 -- I found it far speedier than earlier versions of IE, and faster than Firefox.