With other browsers breathing down its neck, Internet Explorer 9 is an important release for Microsoft. We look at how the new web browser - currently in beta - stacks up against the competition.

It’s come under pressure from rivals such as Firefox and Chrome lately, with reports suggesting that its market share is dropping towards 60 percent, but Internet Explorer is still the most widely used web browser in the world. The forthcoming release of a major new version of Internet Explorer is therefore big news for most PC users.

The final version of Internet Explorer 9 won’t be available for a couple of months yet, and we know of at least one major new feature that still hasn’t been implemented, but the beta version gives a good idea of what we can expect from Internet Explorer 9.

Some of the new features are under-the-bonnet changes that won’t be immediately obvious, such as support for HTML5 and the ability to use your PC’s graphics card to improve graphics and video performance. There’s a big emphasis on streamlining the browser’s interface, and making it faster to find the websites and information you’re after. The various menus and toolbars have been reorganised so there’s less onscreen clutter, and Internet Explorer 9’s tab handling has been improved to make it easier to work with multiple web pages at once. Microsoft also makes greater use of Windows 7 features, such as Jump Lists that place website controls within the Taskbar for easy access.

You might argue that a lot of these features are simply playing catch-up with rival browsers – and, let’s face it, Internet Explorer 9’s new Download Manager isn’t exactly a breathtaking innovation. However, together they make Internet Explorer 9 look tidier and feel more efficient when browsing your favourite sites.

Security has been something of a weakness for Internet Explorer in the past, but Internet Explorer 9 looks as though it will continue Microsoft’s efforts to help keep you safe online. An Application Reputation feature warns you about potentially risky downloads, for example. However, there’s one key privacy feature that Microsoft has announced but hasn’t fully implemented in Internet Explorer 9 Beta.

Tracking protection lists are designed to prevent organisations, such as advertising agencies, from tracking your web activity to monitor your behaviour and target you with adverts. This feature may not be available until the final version launches, and there’s some suspicion that its usefulness may be limited if Microsoft makes it an ‘opt-in’ option to keep the advertising industry happy.

We’ll continue to keep an eye on developments over the next few months, but for now here’s a quick guide to some of the new features that you can look forward to in Internet Explorer 9.

Step 1. Download Internet Explorer 9 Beta. We didn’t experience any crashes during our tests, but if you’re not sure about using beta software you should read the ‘Is the beta right for me?’ help file. A number of help files and video clips on the new features are also available.

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Step 2. The first thing you’ll notice about Internet Explorer 9 is that the interface is tidier and more streamlined. The Favourites and Command toolbars have gone, as has the Search box. Instead, there are just three icons on the far right of the main toolbar. Reducing the clutter allows you to focus on the web page you’re viewing.

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With other browsers breathing down its neck, Internet Explorer 9 is an important release for Microsoft. We look at how the new web browser - currently in beta - stacks up against the competition.

Step 3. The old search and address boxes have been merged into one, now called the One Box. Enter an address into the One Box and Internet Explorer 9 will take you to the relevant website. Alternatively, type words that you want to search for and it will instantly display a list of search suggestions.

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Step 4. The Command Bar in Internet Explorer 8 contained several drop-down menus; Internet Explorer 9 folds all those menus into a single Tools menu in the top-right corner of the browser window. Other icons at the top of the screen include the Home Page and Favourites buttons – the latter displays your list of favourite web pages.

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Step 5. The old Favorites bar and Command bar are still there if you want to use them. Right-click the toolbar to activate the pop-up menu in the screenshot below, then select the options that you want. However, Internet Explorer 9 provides other new options that make it unnecessary to use these old features.

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Step 6. Using Internet Explorer 8 with Windows 7 allows you to store your favourite web links within a Jump List attached to the Internet Explorer icon in the Windows Taskbar. Internet Explorer 9 takes this a step further, allowing you to drag tabs and URLs straight on to the Taskbar, where they become available with a single click of the mouse.

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With other browsers breathing down its neck, Internet Explorer 9 is an important release for Microsoft. We look at how the new web browser - currently in beta - stacks up against the competition.

Step 7. We’ve pinned BBC iPlayer to the Windows Taskbar, and can now launch it simply by clicking the Taskbar icon. Internet Explorer 9 also uses Windows 7’s Jump Lists to provide additional features. Right-clicking the BBC iPlayer icon offers various options, including the ability to immediately play either live TV or radio.

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Step 8. At this point we discover that we need a Flash Player update, and it’s a good opportunity to take a look at another new feature. Instead of the flashing top bar that used to query your downloads, Internet Explorer 9 displays download options and other information in the Notifications bar at the bottom of the window.

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Step 9. Internet Explorer 9 has a Download Manager. You can perform multiple downloads and monitor their progress within a single window. The Download Manager also lets you pause or cancel downloads. This feature is long overdue, of course, but we’ll file the Download Manager under ‘better late than never’.

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Step 10. Internet Explorer 8’s SmartScreen Filter keeps an eye out for dodgy websites and downloads; Internet Explorer 9 enhances this feature with Application Reputation. This is similar to the reputation-based protection provided by some antivirus programs, and warns you if you’re downloading an application that might pose a threat.

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With other browsers breathing down its neck, Internet Explorer 9 is an important release for Microsoft. We look at how the new web browser - currently in beta - stacks up against the competition.

Step 11. We’ve installed the Flash update, so let’s watch a BBC iPlayer programme. We also want to keep an eye on the latest weather conditions. Fortunately, the use of tabs has been improved in Internet Explorer 9, so we’ll right-click on the ‘Weather’ link and open the weather forecast page in a separate tab.

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Step 12. You can now ‘tear off’ tabs by clicking on a tab in Internet Explorer 9 and dragging it out of the current browser window. This causes the tabbed page to open up in a new window of its own. Other web browsers have long supported this feature, so it’s another one for the ‘better late than never’ pile.

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Step 13. You can also use Windows 7’s Snap feature to organise browser windows. When you tear off a tab, drag it to the edge of the screen and Windows will automatically line up the browser window on one side of the screen. Do it with two windows and they’ll be arranged side by side for simultaneous viewing.

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Step 14. A New Tab page provides information about the pages you view most often. Click the New Tab button (or press Ctrl, T) to access it. You can also reopen tabs that you might have closed by mistake, restore your last browsing session, or activate the InPrivate browsing mode, which doesn’t record your online activity.

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