By now you know that Windows 8.1 will release to the public on October 18. You may not know that with Windows 8.1, Microsoft is releasing a brand new version of Internet Explorer, IE 11.
Before I talk about features and capabilities, I want to point out that as it stands right now, IE 11 will only be available for Windows 7 and Windows 8. As such, those organizations that are still using Windows XP will be unable to take advantage of the new browser.
So for those able to take advantage of it, IE 11 has two main areas of focus. First, it is designed to offer better support for web standards -- especially those that are newly emerging. Second, IE 11 is designed to perform better than its Microsoft predecessors.
Although Microsoft claims that IE 11 is faster than IE 10, I take performance benchmarks with a grain of salt. Usually when a software vendor offers up performance benchmarks, the benchmarks were taken from an optimized system running a best-case configuration. I'm not trying to pick on Microsoft. It's become so common for vendors to provide unrealistic benchmarks that I ignore them unless they were produced by a reliable independent third party.
Having said that, the reasoning behind and the methods used to achieve the performance gains are worth talking about. More and more applications have become web-based. Even products like Microsoft Exchange use a web-based administrative console, and Microsoft has also been heavily promoting its Office Web Apps.
Of course, web apps aren't unique to Microsoft. The whole world is moving toward web apps, and Microsoft must realize that the experience they deliver is ultimately dependent on the browser.
In an effort to make IE faster, Microsoft has designed it so that text and JPEG images are natively rendered by the GPU. Not only do these changes improve the browser's performance, they also decrease memory and CPU usage, which could potentially improve a device's battery life. More importantly, with so many organizations deploying virtual desktops, it is becoming increasingly important (at least in business environments) to make efficient use of system resources.
As I mentioned, IE 11 is also designed to provide better support for web standards. At the moment, the most important standard for any browser to adhere to is HTML 5. IE 11 does a better job of supporting HTML 5 than its predecessor did. I have read some unconfirmed reports that IE's HTML 5 support still isn't perfect, but I am excited to see that the browser will finally support drag-and-drop for HTML 5.
Another standard that will be embraced by IE 11 is WebGL (Web Graphics Library). WebGL is similar to OpenGL, except that it is intended for use with web applications. IE 11's support for WebGL should make it easier for web applications to deliver smooth animations and 3D graphics.
I applaud Microsoft for the improvements it is making with Internet Explorer. Of course my biggest hope for IE 11 is that it will be more stable than IE 10. I have had significant problems with browser crashes on my personal desktops, and hope that IE 11 will address those problems.