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Internet Explorer 9 Beta Takes Off with a Bang

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If early response from users is any measure, Internet Explorer 9 (IE9) is off to a strong start.

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) just released the first public beta of IE9 last Wednesday, but it’s already racking up millions of downloads, a company official said Tuesday.

“In [the] first two days, over 2 million people worldwide downloaded [the] IE9 Beta. By comparison, when Internet Explorer 8 Beta launched in August 2008, we had 1.3 million downloads over the first five days,” Microsoft spokesperson Roger Capriotti said in a post to the company’s Exploring IE blog.

Additionally, Capriotti said, in the week since the beta launched, Microsoft’s Beauty of the Web site, which includes a link to the download, received 9 million visits and over 26 million page views.

Microsoft is betting that IE9, with faster performance due to its use of hardware acceleration features and simplified user interface with an HTML5 focus, will help get IE’s share of the global browser marketplace growing again.

IE8, which was released a year and a half ago, currently has an overall share of 27.9 percent, the highest of any browser, according to Web analytics firm Net Applications.

In fact, the combined share of IE8, IE7, and IE6 leaves Microsoft still clearly the dominant player with 60.4 percent of all global searches, the tracking firm says. The next closest competitor is Firefox, which holds 22.93 percent share, followed by Chrome (7.52 percent), Safari (5.16 percent), and Opera (2.37 percent).

While that’s still a significant lead, it’s a much smaller share than the virtual monopoly of more than 90 percent that IE held a few years ago.

As if to demonstrate how important Microsoft views the new browser, the company put on a gala launch for the IE9 beta last week in San Francisco — somewhat unusual for a beta test release.

IE’s past and future

Internet Explorer just turned 15-years-old and originally shipped as an add-on to Windows 95, which was delivered in August 1995.

Microsoft later bundled IE with Windows, claiming that the browser was integral with the operating system; a decision that cost its legal team a significant investment in time defending against various antitrust claims by competitors, states, and even governments. In December 2009, the company inked a deal with the European Commission to offer users in European Union countries the ability to choose which of the main browsers they want to use upon first starting a new computer.

Microsoft declines to give a projected release date for IE9. For comparison, however, IE8 took approximately seven months from first beta to final release. IE9 is a more ambitious release than IE8 — but if the beta test goes smoothly, Microsoft’s latest browser could see its release in March or April 2011.

“All in all, we are encouraged about the very early response to the IE9 release this past week, namely because it signals that the emphasis on making websites shine through Windows is resonating,” Capriotti said.

Stuart J. Johnston is a contributing writer at, the news service of, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @stuartj1000.

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