When we're browsing the Internet one of things we may not give too much thought to is our browser. After all, we're online because we need to get something done, rather than worry about the software that we're using to do it. Microsoft's latest browser, Internet Explorer 9, is worth thinking about though. It's designed from the ground up to be fast, flexible and powerful, and is brimming with new features that will make your life easier online. Here are a few of our favourites.
Streamlined look and feel
As soon as you open IE9 you'll find that it has a clean, simplified, streamlined interface. In fact, you could say that Microsoft is trying to make the browser disappear. Microsoft has paid close attention to detail to ensure that there's as little there as possible on screen so there are no extra menu bars or toolbars to clutter the frame. The minimalist design enables you to focus on the webpage you're looking at, rather than the browser and that's got to be a good thing. When you're viewing in a window rather than full-screen, the border around the web page you're viewing is thinner than ever, while to save space, the address bar and the browser tabs share the same row. If you're wondering where the search bar went, well fret not, it's not missing. Instead, the web address bar and the search bar have been combined. The end result - less browser and more web page.
In its bid to keep things simple, Microsoft has combined the web address bar and search box into one combined space. As soon as you start typing, IE9 will scan your entry and automatically suggest likely destinations to you, using your browsing history and, by default, the Bing search engine. You can then select which one you want with the arrow keys and hit enter to go straight there. This can either be web pages starting with 'www' or standard web searches. Known as AutoComplete, it's a fast, elegant system and will shave a precious few seconds off every web search. Like they say, every little helps.
Autocomplete suggests web searches based on browsing history and Bing.
Windows 7 integration
A natural benefit to using IE9 is the way it integrates so well with Windows 7. This is down to features such as Pinned sites, Jump lists and Snap, all of which make working with IE9 easier and more pleasurable.
- Pinned Sites
Pinned Sites is a powerful tool that effectively lets you treat your favourite web sites like Apps, by placing them directly on the Windows taskbar, just like a native program. This is really great for frequently used web sites such as webmail or Facebook. In an age of increasingly cloud-based activities, it makes a lot of sense.
To create a pinned site you simply drag the icon that appears to the left of the URL down to the taskbar. This works on Windows Vista SP2, but is best on Windows 7 thanks to its slick integration. Once pinned to the task bar, the shortcut will use the website's Favicon rather than the generic IE icon and as you roll the mouse over it, it picks up the predominant colour of the icon, just like a Windows 7 icon. Once you launch a Pinned site, the Favicon appears at the top left of the web page. This then behaves as a Home button that will take you back to the default pinned site. In this mode, add-ons and toolbars don't run, and as you're not in your general browser windows you're more secure too.
- Jump lists
Some sites, such as Facebook and Last FM have been specifically designed for pinning on IE9 in Windows 7. These sites support Windows 7 Jump Lists, so you can right click on the icon and gain direct access to useful options if the website developers put them there. This is handy as you can go right to your messages in Facebook or a preferred section of your eBay account.
Pinned sites behave much like native Windows 7 applications, which extends to right-click Jump Lists
Need to easily compare two web pages side by side? Simply drag one page to the corner of your screen and Window 7 will snap your webpage to one side. Do the same with another page or tab and you can quickly and easily compare and contrast two pages without having to fiddle about resizing the window.
IE9 also handles tabs in a modern and efficient manner. Click the New Tab panel that appears next to the title tab of the currently open page and you're presented with the most popular sites that you have visited recently, so if one of them is where you want to go, it saves you the effort of having to type in the address. You can also reopen your last session, so that if you had a number of tabs open on your previous session you can reopen them all with a single click. Alternatively, you can choose to just open recently viewed individual tabs. You can also easily move tabs around. Hold and drag a tab to change the order or you can also tear one off and make the tab open in a new window. The page title of each tab appears on the taskbar, and in Windows 7 you can close each one down from here too.
Downloads are now handled more discreetly than in previous versions of Internet Explorer. Clicking 'Control J' opens the Download Manager and once you start a download, notifications appears in a bar at the bottom of the screen. This is less distracting than having a box take over the screen, and enables you to continue to browse without interruption.
The download manager makes it easier to gain access to your downloads and provides more control over them too. Click on a download link and the notification box gives you the option to choose to run the download or save it to a location. Once downloading you can pause or resume. If you've got a long list of downloads you can even search for exactly the one you're looking for.
The download bar is placed at the bottom of the screen so it doesn't get in your way.
An important feature of IE9 is the InPrivate Browsing mode. Select this and you'll get a fresh browser window that will let you search the web without storing any details about your browsing session on your computer. This includes information such as browser history, cookies and any temporary Internet files. If you want search for a present without your partner finding out, if you want to login to multiple Hotmail accounts at once, or keep bank details of a stored computer, this is a very useful crucial addition to IE's armoury.
Speed and standards
IE9 also improves on support for web standards, such as HTML5, which means that many videos on the Internet will now play without having to install an external plug-in such as Adobe Flash, making your browser easier to use.
IE9 even uses your hardware more efficiently than the competitors. It's the first browser to makes use of the graphics card (GPU) in your computer, which is much faster than software at rendering text and graphics.
IE9 is also speed aware. Should you run into any speed specific problems, then a Performance Advisor will automatically launch. This lists all the add-ons installed in IE9 and indicates if any of them are taking an excessively long time to load. Is so, you can disable them, and wait for an update to solve the specific issue. With IE9, it's all about keeping you active online, in a fast, fluid and safe environment.