Microsoft has released Internet Explorer 9 platform preview 3, the latest pre-release version of the company’s next web browser.
Curious developers running Windows can download platform preview 3 starting Wednesday afternoon. This version of IE9 features expanded support for specific HTML5 elements that can take advantage of the browser’s new hardware-acceleration abilities.
“Most computing tasks on the web only take up 10 percent of the PC’s capabilities,” Microsoft’s Ryan Gavin said at a press event Wednesday. “We want to unlock that other 90 percent.”
The new IE9 platform preview has expanded support for HTML5’s native video and audio capabilities, as well as expanded support for the Canvas element.
“Showing how well we handle these HTML5 elements is the point of this release,” says Microsoft’s Rob Mauceri.
Microsoft has taken a fair bit of heat in the browser world for being slow to adopt HTML5. Though not yet finalized, the emerging specification is already widely supported by Chrome, Firefox, Opera and Safari. Microsoft’s current version of Internet Explorer, IE8, is woefully behind these other browsers when it comes to support for HTML5 and other standards like CSS 3.
With IE9, due around the end of the year, the company hopes to get back on the right path.
Microsoft has engineered this version of the browser to take advantage of the latest multicore processors and GPU chips shipping in the newest hardware. Several of Microsoft’s hardware partners — AMD, Asus, NVidia and Dell — were on hand with their newest, fastest machines at the press event to show the browser preview running through some Microsoft-built demos.
Microsoft’s hardware acceleration tools, which rely on Direct2D and DirectWrite, are built into Windows 7, and the company is making them available to Windows Vista users (but not XP).
The frame-per-second rates in the new IE9 preview release were impressive. We saw animations, as well as some native video playback (H.264 video — IE will support open source WebM video if the user has the correct codecs installed on Windows). From the looks of the demos, IE9 is shaping up to be one fast browser. It easily smoked Firefox and fared quite well against Chrome. Microsoft’s demos don’t contain any vendor-specific HTML code and they don’t block other browsers, so you can run your own tests in several different browsers. Microsoft is using vendor-specific prefixes on its CSS 3 demos, however.
It’s admirable that Internet Explorer is supporting so much of HTML5 in the next release (“We’re all in on HTML5,” Mauceri says) but Microsoft is taking their level of commitment up a whole extra notch by building a hardware-accelerated browser that can access the GPU for native animations and native media playback.
“Canvas, audio and video are the perfect match for hardware acceleration,” says Mauceri.
Apple’s Safari browser already uses hardware acceleration for some animations, but Microsoft is confident the new IE9 still performs better. Earlier this month, Brandon LeBlanc from the IE team posted a video of Safari 5 and IE9 running side by side. The video shows IE outperforming Safari.
A bonus for designers — the new IE9 includes support for the new Web Open Font Format (WOFF) for displaying fancy fonts on webpages.
This article originally appeared on Webmonkey.com, Wired’s site for all things web development, browsers, and web apps.