IE6 became the dominant browser worldwide early last decade but unfortunately Microsoft took their eyes off the ball resulting in a raft of surprisingly good challengers. IE7 was OK but disappointing and IE8 moved back to challenge for leadership again. Now IE9 is looking like a whole different kind of beast. Although browsers have traditionally leveraged the CPU and system RAM, IE9 supposedly leverages the GPU (graphics processing unit) and promises to provide a significant performance improvement as a result.
This is why, for this cycle, NVIDIA has suddenly become a huge advocate for ie9. This is a big shift for browsers and where the market leader goes, the others will likely follow. This could be the biggest change for the web since the introduction of the web browser.
Bringing Graphics to Browsers
Coincidently I was sent a link to a video of the new Jules Verne world in Second Life that will go live in a few weeks. This is doubly amazing because he clearly had to work within the limits of current technology and couldn’t really make full use of a GPU. Imagine what this could look like if he could have used the full power of the GPU.
By adding graphics capabilities to the browser we could not only create websites that were vastly richer in terms of how they worked (for instance think of a Steampunk themed website where each of the elements was photorealistic and reacted mechanically to your touch to uncover menus which looked like physical constructs), pages could actually look like physical places you could interact with creating the first real opportunity to create interactive web based virtual worlds.
Power to the People
What makes this a potentially really big change is we haven’t been using most of the power in the PCs we currently have. The performance limitations on the web have stayed virtually static for nearly 3 decades and never embraced the GPU at all let alone the vast improvements the industry has made in graphics since the internet was created.
This power could not only be used for rendering but for animation and the creation of web based games the like of which we have yet to see. While locally based applications and games would, in theory, easily outperform web based properties still, the gap between the two could close much more tightly.
This could create broader categories of games that would run on systems that had strong enough graphical headroom like NVIDIA Tegra based phones and tablets, and future iPads. You have to believe that Apple isn’t going to let Microsoft go in this direction alone. And a race to graphics performance could have broad implications for what Google is doing with Chrome and Android.
IE9 Is Only the Beginning
Like any big change, it will take a while for this one to mature and for the other players to make it into a horse race. Apple is already pushing HTML5 which is also the core of IE9 and both vendors evidently want to put Google in its place so they might actually cooperate on this graphics driven web effort.
Check out the IE9 preview site, unfortunately you have to use a lot of imagination because there aren’t yet any really compelling examples of what future sites could look like only examples of animation and physics to give you a rudimentarily idea. Good thing about the web is once developers get their hands on this puppy the only limitation is their imagination and while most have been imagining improvements in the back end IE9 and others like it will get developers focused once again on the desktop.
We have this sense that things tend to go in cycles. First everything was on mainframes which was one extreme, then we had the desktop wave which was another, and most recently we spoke about putting everything in the Cloud, or on the internet. This change could bring performance back towards the middle and allow things to run more effectively where the performance is the least expensive. Not sure what we’ll call this new construct and we’ll likely want a new name because client/server doesn’t sound trendy any more than hosting did, which is what Cloud computing really is (I agree with Larry Ellison on this).
In a way this is something new but it is also something old – it will make a change in the internet that could be both profound and wonderful. Get ready for the real Web 3.0 and the birth of the GPU Browser that will change the Web Forever.