“These benchmarks necessarily characterize only a narrow set of the browser functions in a very constrained way,” Microsoft’s report said. “End users, however, do not operate in a controlled environment.”
Microsoft’s tests pitted IE8 Release Candidate 1 (RC1), which launched in late January, against Google Inc.’s Chrome 1.0 and Mozilla Corp.’s Firefox 3.0.5, a version from mid-December.
The company timed how long it took each browser to completely render the 25 most popular destinations on the Web, as ranked by the Web metrics firm comScore Inc., which included google.com, facebook.com, amazon.com and others.
IE8 was fastest in rendering 12 of the 25 sites, said Microsoft, while Chrome took second place by beating the others on nine sites.
Firefox, meanwhile, was a distant third, coming in first on just four of the 25 domains.
Microsoft did not test other browsers, such as Apple Inc.’s Safari or Opera Software ASA’s Opera, said James Pratt, a senior product manager on the IE development team, because it wanted to focus on rivals that “had a good share on the Windows platform.”
Both Opera and Safari for Windows have shares of less than 1 per cent, according to the most recent data from Net Applications Inc., with the former, on all platforms, accounting for 0.7 per cent and the latter just 0.3 per cent.
Microsoft did not put IE8 in the ring with later versions of Chrome and Firefox.
Chrome, for instance, is currently at 220.127.116.11 as a developer-only build, while Firefox just rolled out 3.1 Beta 2.
“IE8 RC1 is a release candidate, and was very close to being done,” explained Pratt when asked why newer versions of Chrome and Firefox had not been used.
“But Google and Mozilla were still actively working on [those newer browsers], and they weren’t super stable.”
Dean Hachamovitch, IE’s general manager, has called claims of competitors a “drag race” that Microsoft isn’t interested in joining, while Pratt has downplayed comparisons of any kind.
“We’re at the point, with what people do in the browser, that users can’t really tell the difference between browser [performance],” he said in a January interview.
Pratt said that the just-released report backed that up. “As you can see from the scores, the differences between the browsers are actually very small,” he said.
Although Google did not respond to a request for comment on Microsoft’s benchmarks, Mozilla’s Mike Shaver, who heads all development at the company, applauded any attempt to boost IE’s performance.
“I don’t think anyone here has had a chance to really look at their methodology yet or tried to reproduce their results, but to whatever extent Microsoft is working to improve the performance of IE, it’s a good thing for the Web,” said Shaver in an e-mail late Thursday.
Microsoft’s browser performance report can be downloaded from the company’s Web site.
IE8 and Windows 7
Last month Microsoft recently released a “compatibility and reliability” update for IE8, on Windows 7 Beta.
The update was designed to fix several glitches, such as:
• Internet Explorer 8 getting unresponsive when installed with Adobe Flash Player 10.
• An unusable print dialog box popping up when attempting to print a PDF document.
• IT8 becoming unresponsive after a crash, requiring the PC to be restarted
• IE 8 sometimes crashing when you visit some Web sites or re-size the browser window
• Popular third-party extensions causing crashes in Internet Explorer 8.
While Windows 7’s preview includes a version of IE8, it’s actually an interim build, somewhere between the Beta 2 and RC1.
It’s the pre-RC of IE that will be specifically tuned for the new features in Windows 7, “such as jump lists and touch support”, according to Pratt.
Because of its reliance on Windows 7-only features, IE8’s release candidate will require additional testing to qualify on that operating system, said Pratt.
So far Microsoft hasn’t provided a timetable for when IE8 will be synchronized across all versions of Windows. “That depends on the development cycle progress,” Pratt said. “We don’t have a plan that we can talk about.”
Pratt hasn’t set a release date for a final shipping version of the browser.
“The release date will be defined by the feedback we receive,” he said, also declining to say whether January’s build would be the sole release candidate and, if not, how many Microsoft expects.
Change of plans?
That may be a clue that Microsoft has changed its plans. Back in November, for example, IE’s general manager, Dean Hachamovitch, said that the company would roll out just “one more public update” of the browser before following that “with the final release.”
Questions of IE8 RC1’s place in the road map aside, Pratt said that the build is “platform-complete, feature-complete,” which means Microsoft doesn’t anticipate adding or subtracting any features from the build.
It does sport changes from Beta 2, which Microsoft unveiled last August, however, including one that Hachamovitch touted in December, when he said IE8 RC was “just around the corner” and urged Web developers to get ready to test their sites and services with the new browser.
The release candidate also includes several user interface tweaks — IE8 no longer searches through RSS feeds by default when users type in text in the address bar — and a new security tool that Pratt said protects users from “clickjacking” attacks.
Clickjacking is the term given to a new class of browser-based attacks last September to describe tactics that can be used by hackers and scammers to hide malicious actions under the cover of a legitimate site.
While Mozilla Corp.’s Firefox can be protected against clickjacking attacks by installing the “NoScript” add-on, IE8 RC1 includes build-in anti-clickjacking technologies, said Prat. He declined to reveal how they work, saying that Microsoft would disclose more information in future posts on its IE blog.
Users who have already installed a beta of IE8 will soon be offered an upgrade to RC1 automatically via Windows Update, said Pratt.
Others, or the impatient, can download the release candidate from the company’s Web site.
With files from Joaquim P. Menezes