New generation of Web browsers ready for action
Browser makers Microsoft, Mozilla and Google believe it is possible to spend even more time on the Web. The next generation of browsers, including Internet Explorer 9, promises more social networking, better graphics and faster speeds, all designed to make you live more of your life online.
Seattle Times technology reporter
We are a nation of monitor monkeys. People are glued to their Facebook news feed all day at work, watching YouTube videos, scrolling through the Twitter-sphere, reading content, sharing it and commenting on everything.
Still, browser makers Microsoft, Mozilla and Google believe it is possible to spend even more time on the Web. All are developing the next generation of browsers that promise more social networking, better graphics and faster speeds, all designed to make you live more of your life online.
The next big event: Microsoft will launch a test version of its next browser, Internet Explorer 9, in San Francisco on Wednesday. This next generation of browsers represented by IE9 promises to accelerate the Web from a still photo to film world.
While many think of the browser as a passive channel for content — think picture frame or television screen — it is actually a floodgate that can either hold back or liberate the creation of new Web content.
"When you think about where the Web has been for the last 10 to 15 years, it's been a very two-dimensional, vanilla ... experience where it's very text heavy, photo heavy," said David Ragones, director of product marketing at graphics chip maker Nvidia in Santa Clara, Calif. "It's not as interactive as what you would find in the latest game, whether it's the immersion you would get, or the depth that you would get."
Although the browser Microsoft is releasing this week is still in test form, the company believes it's ready for mass adoption by the people of the Web.
Microsoft, saying it was busy preparing for the launch, declined to comment for this story.
Google, which makes the Chrome browser, appears to welcome the competition. "We haven't gotten to test IE9 yet, but we're always excited when other browser vendors innovate and help push the Web forward," said Brian Rakowski, lead product manager for Chrome.
Chrome is one of the reasons Microsoft's browser market share has declined significantly in the past five years.
While the majority of Web users, 60 percent, are still on Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox has leapt to 23 percent and Google Chrome has 8 percent of the market as of August, according to the browser tracker Net Market Share.
The competition has spurred more development among the browsers. The new generation will include new standards known as HTML5 and CSS3, and it will harness graphics processing power, making Web content richer and more dynamic.
While it won't be clear until Wednesday what Internet Explorer 9 can do, Microsoft showed some possibilities in March at its Mix conference.
Features that people take for granted on the rest of the computer — the ability to drag items around on a screen, for instance — will be possible in the new version. Smaller tics, such as the record-skipping pauses when zooming in or out of an online map, will be eliminated.
News flashes and updates will pop in automatically without having to hit the "refresh" button, which will make the Web more social and immediate, based on demos Google has shown on Chrome.
"It will drive a much higher amount of collaboration, which fits well with the current Web's 'I love social,' " Micah Baldwin, chief executive of Graphic.ly, a Boulder, Colo., company building a socially networked comic-book reader. "You'll see applications that weren't social become more social."
Applications that previously had to be installed as separate software, such as Tweetdeck, could run inside the newer browsers, as shown at a recent Google conference.
Developers eventually will be able to build browser versions of apps, rather than one version that works on a Mac and another that works on Windows.
The new browsers will play animations and video without Flash software, which has frustrated many owners of the iPad, which does not support Flash.
"You're probably familiar with going to a site like Flickr and looking at slide shows," Nvidia's Ragones said. "It's a very 2-D, linear experience. It's not very exciting.
"What you can do on a next-generation Web IE9 is you can make it photos and make it a full 3-D experience. You can zoom in and out so it's a much more interactive experience than perhaps you've seen before on Flickr or Facebook."
Most significantly, the browser simply will run faster, making it possible to gulp down more of the Web without indigestion.
"When everyone was first on the Internet, everyone was on these modems and everyone would go get a cup of coffee while waiting for their page to load up. The browser plays a big part of that," said Toby McKes, a developer at Seattle's Cheezburger Networks, which runs the humor site ICanHasCheezburger.com.
Microsoft plans to show off examples of new content at Wednesday's event, including a site for Seattle radio station KEXP, where listeners can navigate through 3-D playlists, with the option to buy music, according to Nvidia.
Many Web designers have been waiting for Microsoft to adopt HTML5 and CSS3 in Internet Explorer. Chrome, for instance, began supporting HTML5 in 2008.
Otherwise, sites built on HTML5 would have looked great in Chrome, but appeared broken on Internet Explorer.
HTML5 is a standard that includes the ability to play video and drag-and-drop items in the browser. CSS3 is a development standard for how websites look.
"IE [Internet Explorer] has been the one that's been kind of lagging behind," McKes said. "IE9 is a huge jump forward in terms of embracing the technologies people are wanting to use."
Sharon Pian Chan: 206-464-2958 or firstname.lastname@example.org
This story, published September 12, 2010, was corrected September 13, 2010. The original version incorrectly stated that Cheezburger Networks runs the humor site LOLcats.com. The company runs the ICanHasCheezburger.com site that features LOLcats photos, but the company does not run the LOLcats.com site.