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Microsoft Internet Explorer 9: What’s the fuss all about?

America’s favorite – well, most installed – Web browser is back for another round. And with its market share sliding, Microsoft seems like it might actually want to impress us this time around. Internet Explorer 9 rises to the challenge with an impressive new set of features – including some you can’t find in any other browsers. Check out some of the new and noteworthy additions to Internet Explorer 9.

Hardware Acceleration

Imagine if the six construction workers watching one guy jackhammer away at concrete stopped spectating and actually did some work of their own. The construction in front of your house would be done in half the time. That’s pretty much the same technique Microsoft uses to speed up IE9.

Internet Explorer 9 employs your computer’s graphics processor – the one that normally sits around twiddling its thumbs when you’re not playing Starcraft II – to render Web pages. The result: Your CPU can take a breather, and pages still load faster.

Compact Interface

Our first reaction upon opening IE9: What happened to all the crap? Microsoft has finally gotten the hint about toolbars and icons cluttering up the user experience, and condensed IE9 into one of the most minimalist browsers out there. Even the address bar and tabs bar, which share different rows in Chrome, have been crushed together onto one line to save vertical space. While you can restore the old stuff with a simple right click, this is the most stripped down – and clean – Internet Explorer has ever looked.

Windows 7 Integration

You had to know Microsoft would leverage its position as the maker of Windows to make IE9 play nicer with the OS than any other browser will. And it has. With this iteration, you can pin websites to the taskbar as shortcuts the same way you typically would with a program, making it easy to access your favorite sites with one click, whether you have a browser open or not.

Address bar search

Google Chrome’s most revolutionary original feature has finally made it over to Internet Explorer with IE9. One bar handles both addresses and search terms, so you don’t have to decide which you’re entering and tab over to the right box. About time.

Performance advisor

Plug-ins and add-ons are great… until you accumulate so many your browser crawls under the weight of them like a Harley Electra Glide. Sure, the cup holders and CB radio are nice, but you wanted it to actually move, right? Microsoft has wisely started accounting for the extra weight with a new performance manager that shows you exactly how long, in fractions of a second, each new addition tacks onto your browser load time and navigation time. Fenders not worth the extra time off the line? Chop ‘em.

New tab features

A revamped “new tab” page in IE9 automatically arranges the sites you most frequently visit, and color codes them with bars that indicate how much time you spend on them. You can also “tear off” tabs to produce new windows.