Q&A

IE 9 Q&A: Microsoft's Ryan Gavin on IE 9's Future

Microsoft launched the Internet Explorer 9 beta in September. IE 9 is the company's next-generation Web browser, based on HTML5 and other World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) developing standards.

Redmond asked Ryan Gavin, senior director of Internet Explorer at Microsoft, to explain the company's direction with IE 9 and how the browser will affect IT professionals. Gavin is a 10-year veteran at Microsoft who has also worked on Windows Live product management, Server and Tools Division strategy and early releases of Visual Studio.

Is there something different this time with the Microsoft approach to IE 9?
Underlying the IE 9 vision is a change in our approach, specifically in openness and transparency. We have a platform preview model that's something new that we started with IE 9. It's a way to bring the development community along with us through the vision and work on IE 9. It allows them to see very early on not only the standards we're supporting with HTML5, but also some of the new capabilities that we're building into the product, like hardware acceleration.

Before IE 9, no one really thought about a connection between my browser and the Web sites I'm going to and my PC. Those two things were relatively disconnected. And what we're seeing now is that the device really matters. The GPU-powered HTML5 really means that Web developers have access to the same type of PC power that native application developers have had for decades. And so the Web applications that they can write as a result have a level of richness, immersiveness and performance characteristics that really do start to feel like native apps. And that's a significant thing because IE 9 has HTML5 at the center. It's architected to take advantage of the PC through the operating system, in this case through Windows. As a result, hardware acceleration really is a game-changer for the experiences that developers can create on the Web.

Are the Internet Explorer platform preview releases a unique approach specific to the Internet Explorer team?
I can't speak for other engineering teams and their models, but the platform preview approach has been incredibly well-received. If you look at the number of platform preview releases we've had -- it was March 15 when we rolled out the first one and we're up to No. 7 now -- that level of [introducing] consistent updates was done in a quality way. There's a real delta between just releasing a lot of code very frequently to the development community. In talking with developers, it's not always super respectful, because, at the end of the day, developers' time is finite. Putting out something that allows them to respond, provide feedback on a stable platform that has a good level of testing behind it, and that they can really help refine ... that's the approach that we've done. Just putting out a lot of code frequently certainly doesn't do that. It's impossible for developers to keep up. They submit feedback and it never gets responded to. We know -- and we've certainly seen it in other approaches -- that model doesn't work.

What if IT pros aren't experts in HTML5 by the time IE 9 is released?
HTML5 is an evolution. So there's no scenario where IE 9 ships and has a big support base for HTML5 and a bunch of developers and IT professionals are left in the lurch if they don't know HTML5. This is really an evolution of the standards-based markup -- everything from CSS to SVG [Scalable Vector Graphics] -- that will allow developers to come along and complement their existing skill sets and really have increased capabilities for the sites that they build. And that's what HTML5 represents. There are some great videos on the "Beauty of the Web" site (beautyoftheweb.com) and our YouTube channel that show what developers have built. They talk about their experiences learning HTML5 and what that's meant for them, and what that means for the Web. I think there's a lot of momentum there.

The next major release of IE 9 will be the release candidate and then the release-to-Web (RTW) version. Will any of that happen in 2011?
The good news is that with the platform previews, we've gotten great feedback. The quality of the beta has been such that we're on a very good path toward a release candidate and obviously the final RTW version. We're not communicating the specific timing yet. But I think the feedback and the quality of engagement we've had from developers really bodes well for that schedule.

Why doesn't Microsoft deliver continuous updates to Internet Explorer, like Google and Mozilla do with their browsers? Is better security compelling enough to go that route?
The balance here is choice and control. What we really want to do is to make it simple for people who want updates to get updates. So we have a great mechanism with Windows Update and Microsoft Update to allow people to get easy, seamless updates to their browsers. If you're an enterprise, business or IT professional, you really want a much higher degree of control over your system and the applications running on them. And allowing those administrators to have control over when they update the browser, the packages that sit on top of that, and the implications for their enterprise or business is incredibly important. That's just part of our professional approach to building software.

Will IE 9 be supported only on Windows?
That's correct.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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