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The Fight Back Begins Now

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This week Internet Explorer turned 15. If dog years are famously seven to every human year I hate to think how old that makes the Microsoft web browser in computer years. Some might say old enough to know better. We aren't going to spend IE's birthday nostalgically looking backwards though (there's a Wikipedia page for that), we're interested in what Internet Explorer still has left in the tank as we stand on the edge of yet another browsing revolution...

As the saying goes: the reports of Internet Explorer's death have been greatly exaggerated. A steadily declining market share had seen all versions of IE drop from 68.32 per cent in June 2009 to 59.95 per cent by April. In recent months, however, figures have rallied with modest growth in June and July.

Quite what has seen this turn around nobody yet knows, but I suspect a combination of the Windows browser ballot screen novelty wearing off and Windows 7's remarkable sales have something to do with it. One thing is certain though, Microsoft is keen to capitalise having announced last week that the first public beta of Internet Explorer 9 will be launched on 15 September.

IE9 is a landmark release for Microsoft. Whereas IE7 was a long overdue replacement for IE6 (it took five years!) and IE8 was the company's attempt to catch-up with rivals, IE9 is looking to make genuine steps forward. Perhaps most interesting is the introduction of hardware acceleration which will enable the GPU to assist with rendering pages - something that should be particularly helpful with graphically intensive sites. Mozilla did test this functionality with Firefox 3.7, but subsequently shelved it for the immediate future. For Microsoft the hope is hardware acceleration will help to close, or even eliminate, the massive gap which currently exists between it and faster alternatives - notably the WebKit based browsers of Google Chrome and Apple Safari, while Opera has also recently made huge strides.

Essentials such as a visual refresh, improved extensions, HTML5 support, Acid3 compatibility and increased Javascript performance also mean Microsoft could have a browser that is genuinely worth your attention in the near future, rather than one used by many simply because it came bundled with Windows. Where Microsoft could potentially slip up is a lack of Windows XP support which seems an unnecessary and desperate attempt to drag users to Vista and Windows 7. If all IE9's competition can happily run on XP, so should IE9.

XP foolishness aside, a better web browser should alleviate many of Microsoft's problems shouldn't it? Not exactly.

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