LAS VEGAS--To improve its browser, Microsoft is counting on some help from the PC.
Internet Explorer 9, the next version of Microsoft's browser, will draw on the graphics chip and other hardware to accelerate the rendering of text and graphics from the Web. At the Mix show here on Tuesday, Microsoft is showing some of that code and releasing a "platform preview" of IE9. The code (available here) contains the new engine but is not a full-featured browser.
In an interview ahead of the keynote, IE general manager Dean Hachamovitch said the company plans to update the browser code every eight weeks or so as the company moves toward a more full featured beta. Hachamovitch didn't say when that beta would be ready, although I would expect a final version of IE9 to hit the market before Windows 8.
Hachamovitch said that the hardware acceleration built into IE9 is far greater than anything being talked about by other browser makers. It's the difference, he said, between having an area rug as compared to wall-to-wall carpeting.
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"The ability for Web developers to get the power of hardware using standard markup is huge," he said.
Separately, Microsoft is using Tuesday's keynote to announce a second community technology preview of "Dallas," the company's Windows Azure-powered information marketplace.
The 9 a.m. PDT keynote is just under way, so check back for updates.
Update 9:06 a.m. PDT: Hachamovitch is on stage, talking about how HTML 5 will be important and how Microsoft plans to focus on HTML with IE9.
"Done right, HTML5 apps will feel more like real apps than Web pages," Hachamovitch said.
Hachamovitch briefly talked about Internet Explorer 6, saying Microsoft would continue to support the aging browser with security updates, but noted that Microsoft shares the community's desire to see users move to newer browsers. Hachamovitch also referred to an IE6 "funeral" held recently in Denver.
"The IE9 team couldn't make it," he said. "We sent flowers."
9:15 a.m. PDT: Hachamovitch is now talking about IE9 and its ability to take advantage of the hardware. He brings out Steven Sinofsky, president of the Windows division at Microsoft, to demo GPU acceleration.
Hachamovitch is using Chrome and Firefox, while Sinofsky is using IE9. In a light moment, Hachamovitch interrupts Sinofsky to note that the two machines on stage are identical. He apologizes for interrupting, but Sinofsky says it's no big deal.
"You always want to interrupt your boss on stage," Sinofsky said.
The two then show a couple different demos, with spinning browser logos and another with the famous Clippy, with each demo showing IE9 rendering faster.
9:30 a.m. PDT: Sinofsky exits and Hachamovitch starts talking about the IE9 platform preview and the company's commitment to both standards and to taking feedback from the community.
As for the preview, it is not a full browser, but can be installed alongside other versions of Internet Explorer.
"The preview is not all of IE9," he said. "There is no back button. There is no phishing protection."
9:33 a.m. PDT: On to HTML 5 video. Hachamovitch shows a Netbook running HTML 5 video, with the CPU struggling under Chrome, but having plenty of headroom using the IE9 preview.
9:35 a.m. PDT: Hachamovitch wraps up and exits and VP Scott Guthrie comes on stage to talk about next month's planned release of Visual Studio 2010 and the updated .Net framework.
9:45 a.m. PDT: And we're on to coding demos...These are getting applause from the crowd and not just because of the polo shirt jokes.
10:05 a.m. PDT: Douglas Purdy is on stage talking about Web-based services. He uses Twitter as an example of a service. There is a Web site, but that is a small part of the experience, which is really centered around an API that can be used by different software running on many devices.
The shift, he said, poses an opportunity, but also a business challenge.
"We know how to make money on Web sites," Purdy said. "There are these things called advertising...But how do you make money out of that underlying API?"
Microsoft said it's backing the Open Data Protocol, or Odata, and releasing a software development kit for the HTTP and Atom-based approach to accessing data in the cloud. Today, Microsoft said, Netflix announced it will make its catalog available using Odata.
"If you can dream of a query, you can start," Purdy said.
10:20 a.m. PDT: Purdy said the new versions of Excel and SharePoint will support Odata, with every list in SharePoint 2010 able to be published as an Odata feed, while a PowerPivot add-on for Excel will allow the spreadsheet to access Odata feeds. Meanwhile, Purdy said the .Net client for Odata will be released under the open-source Apache 2 license.
10:30 a.m. PDT: Now on to the question of how do people make money out of creating APIs. Here's where Microsoft's product, code-named Dallas. It's an information repository where businesses can bring their data sets and business models and, at least in theory, make money from them. Microsoft says there are 25 new data sets from providers that range from commercial companies to governments to individual developers.
As I noted earlier, Microsoft is releasing an updated community technology preview of Dallas.
10:35 a.m. PDT: Purdy says Dallas allows for a range of business models from free to costly and shows a video of Dallas in action and some of the companies and others that are providing data sets to the project.
Among those in the video are mapping firm Navteq and weather data provider Weather Central.
10:40 a.m. PDT: Purdy cedes the stage to designer Bill Buxton of Microsoft Research.
OK, this is kind of cool. So yesterday someone was asking Buxton what's missing in all this mobile technology. Buxton said, well one thing is that these new touch screens don't let the 12-year-old girl text under her desk while looking at the teacher. He joked that maybe what is needed is Morse Code with its simple entry method of just dots and dashes.
After hearing Buxton, last night a developer wrote a Morse Code Twitter application for Windows Phones using the developer tools Microsoft made available on Monday.
"This is what I love about this business," Buxton said.
10:50 a.m. PDT: Buxton is talking about natural user interfaces.
To illustrate his point, Buxton, a musician, brings out a digital saxophone and talks about it as a natural user interface because he plays the saxophone. He even makes the instrument sound like a guitar and a flute.
"It's natural for me because I don't play flute," Buxton said, adding he does play the flute a little but not well. So for him, the digital saxophone is a natural useful interface for all manner of instruments.
"It's interfaces that respect the skills that have been acquired by the user," Buxton said.
But, even then, it is only the right interface for music, that is, it's not going to replace a mouse and keyboard for doing one's income taxes online.
10:59 a.m. PDT: Buxton wraps up with a demo of Project Gustav, a digital canvas and painting program that Microsoft showed off earlier this month at TechFest. Artists can blend colors like with real oil paints and use their fingers to smear the ink as easily as a brush.
"It's not pen or touch; it's pen and touch," Buxton said.