IE 11 Developer Preview For Windows 7
Written by Alex Armstrong   
Friday, 26 July 2013

Microsoft seems serious about IE11 and to prove it there is now a developer preview for Windows 7. Given how long we had to wait for IE10 on Windows 7, perhaps this is another reason to be optimistic.

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IE has recently been attempting to demonstrate to users and developers the it has changed. The message that IE supports standards has been the main one that Microsoft has been promoting. The big problem is that Microsoft also has other assets to promote and the slow delivery of IE10 to Windows 7 was, at best, due to an over-emphasis on Windows 8.

When a beta of IE11 was released on Windows 8.1, it was generally assumed that there would be a similarly long wait for it to appear on Windows 7. Well ,we were wrong. 

Microsoft has made available a developer preview of IE11 for Windows 7 and a new beta of the modern.IE11 website. There are a few features missing from IE11 on Windows 7 and most of them are those like touch that you would find on a mobile device.   

The biggest addition to IE11 is support for WebGL. Despite Microsoft's worries about security it seems that the fact that IE was getting left behind by Chrome and Firefox finally forced Microsoft to catch up. The solution that Microsoft has implemented makes use of Direct3D as the target for the WebGL API. This in itself is a little strange as WebGL is essentially the OpenGL API translated into JavaScript. So, to avoid having to support OpenGL, Microsoft now lets JavaScript programmers write OpenGL-like instructions which are then implemented via a translation layer to Direct3D. What Microsoft gains from this is difficult to see, as WebGL programmers are still going to  have to learn how to work with OpenGL rather than DirectX. 

Currently the WebGL rendering via DirectX doesn't look very complete and we failed to make any of the 3D Chrome experiments work on IE11 - to put this in context most of them work perfectly with Firefox. If you search the web you will also find quite a few similar comments about missing support for many WebGL features.

Microsoft claims that it has passed 70% of the WebGL validation suite but that leaves a difficult 30% to go. This is only a developer preview, but it does suggest that mapping WebGL onto DirectX isn't easy - Microsoft could probably have saved itself a lot of major problems by simply embracing OpenGL for this particular application. 

As well as WebGL support, there are lots of smaller improvements. Canvas has been upgraded to level 2, there is now support for high resolution screens and multiple monitors. JavaScript has some minor updates but one surprise is that it now supports _proto_ which is a very Mozilla specific feature. 

There are some new video DRM features, but no sign of WebRTC, which is presumably the next standard that Microsoft will have to rush to support when it becomes clear that it is part of a modern browser. 

You can see Microsoft's take on the importance of the new features in the following video: 

 

It is good that Microsoft is supporting WebGL now on both Windows 8 and Windows 7. It is sad that it has taken three years to get round to it so that it is having to play catch up. Only a few days ago Mozilla showed off a trial implementation of WebGL2, for example.  

It is also clear that IE is no longer a universal browser in the sense that Firefox and Chrome are. IE11 runs only on Windows and while this was once enough to cover a very large share of the market it is now a dwindling proportion of web-using devices. If WinRT mobiles had been the sucess that Microsoft hoped for then perhaps IE would look more viable in the new ecosystem.

Perhaps it is time for Microsoft to think about giving up on keeping its own browser. 

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More Information

Internet Explorer 11 Preview guide for developers

IE11 Downloads

Related Articles

It Is Official - IE 11 To Support WebGL       

IE11 To Support WebGL?       

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Last Updated ( Thursday, 19 September 2013 )
 
 

   
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