NZ Mozilla guru takes aim at Microsoft's marketing of Internet Explorer 9

Rob O'Callahan describes full hardware acceleration claim as 'a myth'

New Zealand-based Mozilla developer Rob O'Callahan has taken exception to claims Microsoft has made about the recently-released IE9 web browser.

Last week, Robert O'Callahan, who works on Mozilla's graphics infrastructure, took exception on his personal blog to an earlier Microsoft blog that said IE9 "fully hardware accelerates the entire web platform," and which cited scores that showed competitors lagged behind IE9.

" Microsoft 's message that IE9 is the apex of what a browser can do with the GPU is nonsense," said O'Callahan on his personal blog last Thursday. In a follow-up post a day later he added, "Microsoft's PR about 'full hardware acceleration' is a myth."

Microsoft senior director of IE Ryan Gavin acknowledged that he was aware of Mozilla developers' comments about IE9, but declined to comment on them. Instead he said, "Our focus has been to hardware accelerate text, video, audio and graphics. That's our implementation of hardware acceleration."

Microsoft officially launched Internet Explorer 9 (IE9) on Monday, claiming that it's the best browser for Windows because rivals "dilute" their energies on other operating systems.

"The browser is only as good as the operating system," said Gavin in an interview on Monday. "On a going-forward basis, the browser will be only as good as the OS and the device it's running on."

The message couldn't be clearer: Because Microsoft knows Windows, and develops only for Windows, IE9 is the best browser for the operating system.

Microsoft's tying of IE9 to Windows shouldn't be a surprise: In the past, the company has touted key features, like "pinning", that rely on Windows 7, and it's recently taken to citing Windows-only browser usage statistics, a practice that boosts its share numbers by dismissing other operating systems, notably Apple's.

But Microsoft turned up the volume on Monday.

"We want browsing the web to be a great experience, so that people keep choosing Windows to do it," said Dean Hachamovitch, the head of IE's engineering group, explaining why IE is important to Microsoft.

"Websites are going to need to tap into the power of the underlying hardware the same way that applications do," said Hachamovitch. "The way they do that is through the browser, and the way the browser is going to do that is through the operating system. So the world just changed."

Microsoft's claim that IE9 is the best browser on Windows rests largely on its hardware acceleration, technology that taps the graphics processor, or GPU, to handle some of the most processing-extensive chores, including composing the page. Microsoft has regularly trumpeted IE9's GPU-based acceleration, first highlighting that feature when it demonstrated the browser nearly a year-and-a-half ago.

Other browsers, notably the upcoming Firefox 4, also offer hardware acceleration on Windows, as well as a more limited form on Mac OS X.

But Hachamovitch took shots at rivals -- like Firefox and Chrome, another multi-operating system browser -- without naming names.

"Other browsers dilute their engineering investments across systems," Hachamovitch said. "Because we focus exclusively on one, IE can make the most of the Windows experience and the hardware."

Gavin elaborated on the decision to drop Windows XP from the list of supported operating systems for IE9, a move that flies in the face of statistics: Windows XP still accounts for 61 percent of all copies of Windows now in use.

"We knew we didn't want to optimise for the lowest common denominator, you need a modern operating system," Gavin said. "[Supporting XP would have been] optimizing for the lowest common denominator. It's ten years old. That's not what developers need to move the web forward."

Gavin declined to spell out Microsoft's adoption goals for IE9.

Both Hachamovitch and Gavin also repeated themes that Microsoft has deployed in the past to describe the new browser.

"The browser should be a stage," Hachamovitch said.

"We wanted to change the way consumers experience the web," said Gavin. "How do you get the browser out of the way? The browser is the theatre, but people pay money for the play, not the theater."

Those comments were echoes of Microsoft's previous assertion that IE9's new streamlined look -- which some have said resembles Google Chrome's minimalist user interface -- was a design choice to make the browser fade into the background, and put web content at the forefront .

They also talked up the idea that IE9's new "pinning" feature makes websites more application-like. Users can "pin" a site to the Windows 7 taskbar, just as they can a native Windows application, such as Microsoft Word or Adobe Photoshop, to launch it with a single click.

Monday, Microsoft said more than 1,000 sites have taken advantage of pinning -- and another Windows 7 feature called "jump lists" -- to make their sites behave more like an application. Some of those sites are offering special deals to users for pinning, including Hulu, which will give customers a free month of the Hulu Plus service for adding the site to their taskbars.

"Pinning and jump lists make sites site more app-like," said Gavin. "Even with the explosion of apps in the last couple of years and all the apps on devices, the Web is the number one interactive mechanism. But the web has trailed behind the app experience."

According to Gavin, more than 40 million copies of IE9's beta and release candidate, or "RC," had been downloaded by users prior to Monday, a number he said was a record for a Microsoft browser preview.

"We've been humbled by the adoption of IE9," Gavin said.

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