Microsoft has launched IE9 and with it comes an attitude that threatens to hold back web development for the foreseeable future.
Microsoft has finally launched IE9 at SXSW. There isn't too much more to say about it because the public beta has been both well tried and well reported on.
It is claimed, and Microsoft like to have it claimed, that this is the start of a new era. IE9 will be standards based and in particular it will support HTML5. But this is really not the point and we are in danger of missing what is really important. Microsoft might want to adhere to standards but it has commercial concerns which cause it to be selective about what it regards as a standard. It looks as if history is about to repeat itself and IE9 is going to become the same barrier to the development of the Internet that IE6 was and still is.
The history that is repeating itself is the SVG fiasco. SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) was introduced as a standard in 1999 and everyone but Microsoft adopted it. Rather than go with everyone else IE and later browsers used Microsoft's own VML "standard". As a result you couldn't rely on SVG being a native feature of the current browsers of the day. Yes, there were plugins that allowed IE to render SVG, but again you couldn't rely on the user being willing to download and install them. As a result SVG never became the breakthrough graphics solution that it might have been.
It is even arguable that had SVG been supported by all of the major browser manufacturers then we probably wouldn't have had to introduce Canvas in HTML5 - it would have been enough simply to add some bitmap facilities to SVG. So you can blame Microsoft for HTML5 having two separate graphics facilities, one vector and one bitmap, instead of a logical, integrated, all-embracing graphics system.
Now in 2010 Microsoft has repented and joined the SVG working group. IE9 now supports SVG and almost ten years on we can start to use it with a reasonable expectation that a modern browser will support it. The 2D web graphics revolution can now at last begin.
However the revolution that is currently underway is not 2D but 3D. WebGL may not be part of the mainstream HTML5 specification but FireFox, Chrome, Safari, Opera and some mobile browsers all support it. It isn't part of the HTML5 standard and therefore Microsoft might well be able to claim that IE9 is justified in not implementing it but.. this is the SVG/VML story all over again.
Microsoft doesn't want to support WebGL most likely because it is based on OpenGL and not on Microsoft's own DirectX 3D system. So will we soon see Microsoft's 3D rendering technology for the web? My guess is yes and then we really will have another fiasco on our hands.
The ability to create 3D graphics within a browser may not be essential to every project, but it is a game-changing facility that makes web apps more powerful. Coupled with the new features in HTML5 it is what takes web development forward into the next decade. But it isn't going to happen unless Microsoft includes it in IE as soon as possible. If native WebGL support is restricted to only non-Microsoft browsers then we can say hello to another ten years of wasted opportunity.
If you really have to then you can download IE9 from:
but if you want the future of the web to be 3D, I suggest that you download an alternative.
What's hot about IE9 - not a lot
WebGL 1.0 finalized - the state of play
IE 9 - more chaos to come?