Microsoft has unveiled the beta version of its latest web browser, Internet Explorer 9 (IE9). IE9 is available to download from Microsoft.

The software company has worked with 70 top websites and global brands, including Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Amazon, Twitter and eBay, to ensure these sites can show off the capabilities of IE9.

Research by Microsoft revealed web users only use 12 of the features in the browser regularly. This prompted the software company to develop a user interface that is less cluttered than previous versions of the browser. In-keeping with the look of Microsoft's recent OS, Windows 7, the browser is framed in 'glass' so web users see a page's content first and foremost.

Microsoft IE9 offers features first seen in Windows 7

Open any website in the browser and a large version of the website's icon will be displayed in the top left-hand corner of the browser window, along with large back and forward buttons.

"The new browser delivers a fast, clean, trusted and interoperable online experience," Microsoft said.

The URL-bar is similar to the Awesome bar in Mozilla's Firefox, allowing users to type the address of the website they want to visit as well as offering search suggestions as words or phrase are typed. This function is turned-off by default, simply press the link displayed when you start to type, will turn it on. Users will be offered visual search results as well as standard results.

The browser also offers buttons for compatibility mode, which was first introduced in Internet Explorer 8, and allows websites not coded for the browser to be viewed properly as well as the Favourites button and Control, which offers access to personalisation and privacy menus.

IE9 also makes use of a number of functions first introduced in Windows 7. Users can pin sites to the taskbar, ensuring they don't have to open the browser window to navigate to the website. A number of pinned sites also offer Jump lists, that depending on the site, offer different function such as skipping backwards and forwards through tracks (on music streaming sites) or accepting a friend request on social networking sites, when hovering over the site's icon on the task bar.

Users of the new web browser also have the ability to tear off a tab, by dragging it away from the browser, and using Windows Aero Snap to view two sites side-by-side. Microsoft says this function is ideal for web users that want to compare products from different websites or even watch a video while reading email. To tear off a tab and snap it, simply click a tab and drags it to the edge of the screen.

These functions are backwards compatible with machines running Windows Vista SP2, but unfortunately not those using the older Windows XP.

NEXT PAGE: Harnessing the power of the whole PC

Microsoft has unveiled the beta version of its latest web browser, Internet Explorer 9 (IE9).

A new scripting engine, Chakra utilises the CPU's power, along with full hardware acceleration of HTML5, which harnesses the power of the graphics processing unit (GPU), reallocating much of the graphic processing here instead of the CPU, to render graphics and text on a web page faster than previous versions of the browser

Microsoft IE9 Hotmail

Microsoft says that by using the GPU, IE9 unlocks the 90 percent of the PCs power that went previously untapped by browsers.

"Internet Explorer 9 uses the power of Windows and the whole PC to bring you a better web," explained Steven Sinofsky, president of the Windows and Windows Live division at Microsoft.

Microsoft has built on the security functions it introduced in IE8. A new download manager integrates SmartScreen malware protection, which virus checks the file while it's being download. The software company is also working on the SmartScreen download reputation feature. Microsoft is compiling a database of software so that when users attempt to download a program from the web, they will be alerted as to whether it's legitimate or whether they run the risk of infecting their machine with malware.

The Add-on Performance Advisor notifies users if add-ons are slowing the PC and offers the ability to disable them with the click of a button . InPrivate filtering, which blocks content such as ads, statistics apps like Google Analytics, and other (mostly ad-related) content that does not originate from the site you're visiting, has also been tweaked to allow users to turn it on and off on a site-by-site basis

The browser also provides support for HTML5, Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG), CSS3 and other modern web standards.

Microsoft did not reveal when the final version of IE9 would ship. Many have speculated on an April 2011 release to coincide with MIX, the company's annual web conference, which is slated to take place April 12-14, 2011, in Las Vegas.

However, it's possible the ship date will be significantly later. Microsoft finalised IE8 a full year after it released the first public beta for that browser. If it maintains the same pace for IE9, the upgrade's final edition might not appear until September 2011.

The beta can be downloaded from Microsoft's dedicated website now.