Build 2013: IE 11 Preview Goes Live

At its Build conference this week Microsoft  launched a preview version of Internet Explorer 11, in conjunction with the release of the Windows 8.1 preview. Both are expected to be officially released later this year.

IE11 is also touch-optimized, which should come as no surprise. During the opening keynote Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer beat the touch-is-better drum throughout his Build conference keynote, and predicted an "outpouring" of new touch-enabled devices of every stripe.

"The ability to reach out and touch is obvious," Ballmer said, "yet it's only really in the Windows family we have a range of touch notebooks."

The new browser will also allow users to pin bookmarks to the Start screen and save them as dynamically updating live tiles. The new browser supports using as many tabs as you want simultaneously without battery strain. And it will allow users to access those open tabs across a range of devices synced via the cloud through SkyDrive.

Although the company is emphasizing the integration of IE11 with Windows 8.1, the new version of the browser will also be available to Windows 7 users, Microsoft has said. And IE10 will be available on Windows 8.1.

Among the most talked about new features in the Redmond software maker's ubiquitous browser is support for WebGL, a web graphics standard the company rejected almost exactly one year ago. Also generating considerable conference buzz: The new version will also support MPEG-Dash, a media streaming protocol, and Google's SPDY protocol, which accelerates download speeds from the Web.

Originally developed by the Khonos Group, WebGL (Web Graphics Library) is a cross-platform, royalty-free web standard for a 3D graphics API implemented in a browser without the use of plug-ins. It's based on OpenGL ES 2.0, and it uses the HTML 5 canvas element. By allowing a Web site to access a computer's graphics card via JavaScript, WebGL brings hardware-accelerated 3D graphics to the browser without the need for additional software.

WebGL is supported in Google's Chrome, Mozilla's Firefox, Apple's Safari, and the Opera browser. But until recently, Microsoft had seen it as a security risk. A blog post last year on Microsoft's Security Research & Defense page declared: "We believe that WebGL will likely become an ongoing source of hard-to-fix vulnerabilities… In its current form, WebGL is not a technology Microsoft can endorse from a security perspective."

Microsoft was among the early participants in the development of MPEG-Dash (Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP), which is a protocol for high-quality video streaming over the Internet. (Something like Microsoft's Smooth Streaming.) Dash was developed to provide a standard for HTTP streaming of multimedia content, with the goal of enabling interoperability among the servers and clients of different vendors. It's governed by the Motion Picture Experts Group (MPEG).

"Since Windows 7, Microsoft has been a leader in supporting Web standards," Antoine Leblond, VP of Microsoft's Windows Program Management group, told Build attendees. "We continue that [support] in Windows 8.1 by adding support for WebGL and MPEG Dash. The Web platform in Windows 8.1 supports both of these…, both in the browser and native apps."

Microsoft did not initially support Google's SPDY protocol, preferring instead to develop its own version, known as HTTP Speed+Mobility. Google describes SPDY (pronounced "speedy"), as "an application-layer protocol for transporting content over the Web, designed specifically for minimal latency." According to the HTTPbis Working Group, SPDY actually introduces two layers of protocol: a general purpose framing layer that can be used on top of a transport likely TCP for "multiplexed, prioritized, and compressed data communication of many concurrent streams;" and a layer providing HTTP-like semantics for compatibility with existing HTTP application servers. Along the SPDY spec, Google developed a SPDY-enabled Chrome browser and open-source web server. SPDY was initially rejected, Microsoft said, because it did not address the needs of mobile devices and applications. 

The coming upgrade of the HTTP network protocol, HTTP 2.0, is reportedly using SPDY as the working base for its specification draft and editing.

So far, Microsoft has made no announcements regarding IE11's lack of support for WebRTC (Web Real-Time Communications), which is already supported in Chrome and Firefox, and soon will be supported in Opera. WebRTC describes an API that enables real-time communication (voice and video calls and live chat) among browsers without the need for additional software.

About the Author

John K. Waters is the editor in chief of a number of sites, with a focus on high-end development, AI and future tech. He's been writing about cutting-edge technologies and culture of Silicon Valley for more than two decades, and he's written more than a dozen books. He also co-scripted the documentary film Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which aired on PBS.  He can be reached at [email protected].


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