Microsoft was demonstrating Internet Explorer 9 Preview 3 (IE9) this morning in San Francisco with hardware partners like Asus, NVIDIA and AMD. The third IE preview, Microsoft introduces Direct X based 2D and video acceleration of HTML5 content, and there was no question that using a graphics processor (GPU) is much faster to display… graphics. (Image above: hundreds of 2D fish swim at 60fps in IE9)
Apple has also worked on something remotely similar but Safari still lags the performance that IE p3 demonstrates, by far. Firefox and Chrome do not offer hardware acceleration for now. What’s in it for you? It’s simple, really: most HTML5 basic image operations like zoom, scrolling, vector graphics, etc… are now fluid and run at 60 frames per second or more. Yes, just like the super-fast Zune HD (read our Zune HD Review), except that it is in your browser. Even Netbooks (with decent GPUs) will benefit from the boost. On competing browser, the demos were sluggish because all those pixels were being processed by the main processor (CPU). Obviously the demos are there to highlight the strengths of IE9 p3, but the truth is that it is simply better to use dedicated hardware for graphics. You get a much better performance per Watt — that ultimately means “better battery life”.
The browser across 3 screens displays graphic elements at 60fps
For hardware companies, it’s like a dream come true: after years of failed attempts at using 3D on the web, graphical user interfaces and video will make their GPUs indispensable to practically all web users. This is yet one more reason to demand a graphics processor in your computer. And because all this new stuff is based on DirectX, AMD and NVIDIA did not have to sweat too much (if at all): it’s all supported in the existing drivers.
For Microsoft, this is a great way to differentiate IE9 and Windows from other browsers and platforms. Because Microsoft will support only Windows, this is less problematic for them to implement hardware acceleration support than multi-platform browsers like Chrome or Firefox. Of course, the competition can opt for OpenGL and/or DirectX too, but this will ultimately turn into a heavier burden to maintain the codebase. In the meantime, Microsoft still commands 90%+ of the OS installed-base and is aiming at gaining some browser market share back. Microsoft has also swore to me that the IE team was working really hard on the cross-browser compatibility issues that made Webmasters’ life so hard in the past.
We’ve been shown a couple of demos that shed some light on the IE9 preview 3 performance, but you can take a look for yourself here: http://ie.microsoft.com/testdrive/. the more graphics you pile up, and the more IE pulls ahead.
This is a mock-up of an Amazon book store app with lots of animations
Fortunately for Google and Mozilla, there’s no reason to panic just yet. There are practically no HTML5 that use this stuff heavily, and chances are that developers will start slow, so there is time to catch up.
On the Microsoft side, there are usability things, including sync, upgrade mechanism and plug-ins, that need to be worked on. Added performance is wonderful, but in the short term, this won’t be enough to reverse the momentum, at least until there’s a killer app/website. That said, keep an eye on Microsoft, they shoot like artillery — they take several shots to hit, but it can be painfully efficient if it lands on the intended target. Ask Sony.