With other browsers breathing down its neck, Internet Explorer 9 is an important release for Microsoft. We look at how the new web browser - currently in beta - stacks up against the competition.

It’s come under pressure from rivals such as Firefox and Chrome lately, with reports suggesting that its market share is dropping towards 60 percent, but Internet Explorer is still the most widely used web browser in the world. The forthcoming release of a major new version of Internet Explorer is therefore big news for most PC users.

The final version of Internet Explorer 9 won’t be available for a couple of months yet, and we know of at least one major new feature that still hasn’t been implemented, but the beta version gives a good idea of what we can expect from Internet Explorer 9.

Some of the new features are under-the-bonnet changes that won’t be immediately obvious, such as support for HTML5 and the ability to use your PC’s graphics card to improve graphics and video performance. There’s a big emphasis on streamlining the browser’s interface, and making it faster to find the websites and information you’re after. The various menus and toolbars have been reorganised so there’s less onscreen clutter, and Internet Explorer 9’s tab handling has been improved to make it easier to work with multiple web pages at once. Microsoft also makes greater use of Windows 7 features, such as Jump Lists that place website controls within the Taskbar for easy access.

You might argue that a lot of these features are simply playing catch-up with rival browsers – and, let’s face it, Internet Explorer 9’s new Download Manager isn’t exactly a breathtaking innovation. However, together they make Internet Explorer 9 look tidier and feel more efficient when browsing your favourite sites.

Security has been something of a weakness for Internet Explorer in the past, but Internet Explorer 9 looks as though it will continue Microsoft’s efforts to help keep you safe online. An Application Reputation feature warns you about potentially risky downloads, for example. However, there’s one key privacy feature that Microsoft has announced but hasn’t fully implemented in Internet Explorer 9 Beta.

Tracking protection lists are designed to prevent organisations, such as advertising agencies, from tracking your web activity to monitor your behaviour and target you with adverts. This feature may not be available until the final version launches, and there’s some suspicion that its usefulness may be limited if Microsoft makes it an ‘opt-in’ option to keep the advertising industry happy.

We’ll continue to keep an eye on developments over the next few months, but for now here’s a quick guide to some of the new features that you can look forward to in Internet Explorer 9.

Step 1. Download Internet Explorer 9 Beta. We didn’t experience any crashes during our tests, but if you’re not sure about using beta software you should read the ‘Is the beta right for me?’ help file. A number of help files and video clips on the new features are also available.

IE 9 1

Step 2. The first thing you’ll notice about Internet Explorer 9 is that the interface is tidier and more streamlined. The Favourites and Command toolbars have gone, as has the Search box. Instead, there are just three icons on the far right of the main toolbar. Reducing the clutter allows you to focus on the web page you’re viewing.

IE 9 2

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