Microsoft have released a platform preview of Internet Explorer 9, this is a very early release so people can play with a few of the features, it is in no way a complete browser, in fact you need IE8 to run it. The new browser looks like a huge improvement on earlier versions of Internet Explorer, it is much better in terms of standards compliance, much faster and has support for (among other things) HTML5, CSS5 and SVG. I think it will be a pretty good browser.
But will it run on my computer?
Yes, as long as you are running Vista or Windows 7.
IE9 uses features which don’t exist in Microsoft’s older operating systems; that is anything older than Windows Vista, there are pretty good technical reasons for doing this and IE9 is faster and more secure because of it, but it does mean that IE9 will never run under Windows/XP. Of course Windows/XP is now pretty old and we can’t expect it to be supported forever, but you can still buy a brand new PC with XP installed and over 65% of PCs are still running XP, more than twice the market share of Windows Vista and Windows 7 combined.
Will people upgrade to Windows 7 so they can run IE9?
I think the days of people upgrading their operating systems to run the latest software, particularly something as basic as a browser are long gone. Windows 7 looks like a pretty good operating system and I will happily run when I get a new PC, but I’m not going to upgrade an old PC to run it just so I can install IE9. If I want a better browser than IE8 it is much less painful to install Firefox, Chrome or Opera than it is to change operating systems.
As PC usage increases and as people replace old PCs Windows 7 usage will increase and XP will continue its decline, but it will take years for Windows 7 (or it’s successors) to overtake XP in market share. As technologies like HTML5 etc become more widespread there will be more need for XP users to move away from browsers which don’t support these features, otherwise they will be unable to use many of the features that other people take for granted.
So what will Microsoft do about Windows/XP?
The people at Microsoft are pretty canny and I don’t think they will want to risk the huge user base still on XP gradually drifting onto non-Microsoft browsers. They might get the idea that there are other areas where Microsoft products aren’t the only option.
Internet Explorer 8.5?
My theory is that we will see a new version of IE8, perhaps they will call it IE8.5, which will incorporate a lot of the features from IE9 and will run on older versions of Windows. Although Internet Explorer version 8.5 will never be as fast or as secure as IE9 it could use the same techology to render webpages and so be a good interim step. It could be distributed through Windows Update (as IE8 was) and so would keep the average Windows/XP user on a Microsoft Browser until they are ready to upgrade to Windows 7.
Of course this is just my theory and I’m sure Microsoft won’t be announcing any such move any time soon, they would much rather that everbody bought Windows 7. But they didn’t get the market share they have by ignoring most of their customers. Maybe this time next year I will be able to say ” I told you so”.