It's a little ironic that the main focus of yesterday's Internet Explorer 9 beta launch event in San Francisco was to de-emphasize the browser itself. The modern browser, with all its tabs, buttons and search fields, has become too cumbersome and draws attention away from what consumers and business users really care about: websites. IE competitors Firefox and Chrome are also stripping down their browser interfaces to the bare essentials.
"People go to the web for sites, and websites have become boxed in by the browser," said Dean Hachamovitch, Microsoft's Internet Explorer GM, in his keynote. "With IE9 we are unboxing the web browser experience so users can focus on sites."
To this end, Microsoft has created IE9 as a browser that "uses the whole PC" - meaning that the rendering of text and graphics has moved from the CPU of a computer to the GPU (graphics processing unit) for more power and speed. IE9 is also offering more support for HTML5, an increasingly popular standard for developers to create rich media on websites.
From a design and navigation perspective, Microsoft is pulling out lots of new tricks to integrate IE9 with Windows 7 user interface features such as Pinned sites, Aero Snap, JumpLists and thumbnail controls. The goal is to help users explore the web without browser clutter getting in the way.
Although some IE9 features appear lifted from competitors like Google's Chrome browser (the minimalist look, the unified search and URL bar), IE9's stripped down interface is unlike any of the browser's previous versions. It remains to be seen if IE9's simplified "window to the web" aesthetic will give Microsoft back its lost browser market share.
Microsoft vows to be website-centric and keep users happy, so download the beta here and decide if the new look is chic or weak. But before you do that, check out five ways that IE9 integrates and enhances Windows 7 UI design features for Web browsing.
Windows 7 lets you "pin" apps such as IE, iTunes, AIM, Outlook and others to the taskbar and access them there as buttons. IE9 expands on this feature and allows you to pin actual websites to the taskbar and access them without having to open a browser.
Websites can be pinned to the taskbar in IE9.
"We're saying 'Look at the site!' instead of 'Look at the app,'" Hachamovitch says. This essentially takes the "bookmarks" or "favourites" bar browser feature and also puts it in the taskbar, so you can go directly to a website from the desktop.
When a pinned site is launched from the taskbar, the site's colours and logo are integrated into the browser frame. For example, the Amazon logo sits next to the back and forward buttons and those buttons share Amazon's colour scheme.