With Firefox recently racking up one fourth of the total browser market share and Microsoft's Internet Explorer constantly struggling to keep pace, with the older versions being more popular than the newer ones, the Redmond software giant hopes to reverse the trend with the upcoming Internet Explorer 9. However, preliminary test results posted on Microsoft's IE blog have left some puzzled over the Web standards compliance of the future browser.

The happy days seem to be over for Microsoft's browser, with a market share that is slowly but consistently declining in favor of open source counterparts — namely Firefox and Google Chrome — with Apple's Safari also gaining momentum. Antitrust concerns expressed by the EU earlier this year have led the software giant to ship Windows 7 with a "ballot screen" allowing users to pick the browser of their choice upon installation, in a move that is bound to damage IE's position in the long run.

IE general manager Dean Hachamovitch announced some of the features the team is planning to introduce with the new version, particularly hardware-accelerated rendering of graphics and text via Direct2D, something that other browsers don't yet implement and that will lead to performance gains without webmasters having to modify the code on their sites.

The JavaScript engine — one of IE's weak spots in previous versions — is also receiving a major overhaul and, in preliminary testing, is at least competitive with Firefox, Chrome and Safari, even though it's still the last of the lot by a small margin. Once the performance differentials are this small, Hachamovitch writes, the single components end up mattering more, which explains team's efforts in terms of improving the graphics rendering.

However, the specification that has left by far the most users disappointed with the current build of the browser its is Web standards compatibility. Acid3 is a well-recognized test suite for Internet browser encompassing many aspects of the Document Object Model and JavaScript language in one hundred small but comprehensive tests. With Safari, Opera and (in its latest build) Chrome all scoring a full 100/100 on the test, IE9 scored a very unimpressive 32/100.

To be fair, Microsoft did say that IE9 is in its early stages of development and that the team will continue to work on improving compatibility with Web standards; but it also inexplicably claimed that support for rendering of rounded corners as a graphic element (to be used as a decoration wrapping text or other content) is actually more meaningful to Web developers than the entire Acid3 test suite, which could have users suspecting that compliance with Web standards is not one of Redmond's priorities at this time.

To end on a positive note, Hachamovitch wrote that his team is applying user feedback from the IE8 product cycle, another indicator of Microsoft's new tendency to actively seek and value input from users and partner companies — a process that started with the development of Windows 7 and will hopefully reinforce the fact that, with users increasingly becoming content producers, the frustration of Web developers around the globe is one of the core issues behind the browser's declining market share.

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