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Internet Explorer 9 beta: Whisper it, it's rather good

Microsoft's Internet Explorer 9 has arrived in beta, and -- shhh, don't let anyone hear you -- it's not bad at all.

The latest version of Microsoft's much-maligned Internet Explorer Web browser has arrived. The beta version of IE9 shows off new features and increased speed, and -- whisper it -- it looks rather good.

IE9 showed off its handling of standardised mark-up and hardware acceleration in a number of preview builds. IE9 uses the graphics chip in your computer to do the hard work, making websites, video and animation look their best. The beta release adds the front end, complete with a number of new features.

The first impression is how clean IE9 looks. The address bar is called 'the one box', as it provides one box to type in not just URLs but also search the Web, your history and bookmarks, and suggestions from search engines.

The one box and tabs sit on the same bar, freeing up more screen real estate. When you have a lot of tabs open, nine are displayed in the bar with arrows to scroll to the rest. By default, the tabs appear in the middle, which keeps your address bar too short to see long URLs.

Also on this bar is a home button, access to a drop-down menu of favourites, feeds and history, and a clean options menu. On the left is a giant back button.

You can bookmark sites on the Windows taskbar by dragging the site's favicon from the one box to the taskbar, keeping the site pinned and ready for quick access. The taskbar also offers a jump list of frequently visited sites, even when IE9 is not open.

IE9 includes the new Chakra JavaScript engine. We ran it through the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark, and it scored a disappointing 4,281.4ms. Chrome scores just 436ms, and Firefox 1,183.8ms.

Microsoft reckons installation is much easier with this new version, but it's still a faff. The download took us just under 6 minutes over our office Wi-Fi, and required a restart. It also offered an error message that 'a program on your computer has corrupted your default search provider', which could worry a new user when all it means is it's resetting the default search engine to Bing.

As good as IE9 looks, many of the features will be familiar to users of other browsers. The one box is the same as Firefox's 'awesome bar', and even takes you to the top search result. The new tab options and tab tiling are similar to Google's Chrome.

But where other browsers are available across all systems, IE9 makes a virtue of the fact it's limited to Windows, tying into your computer and operating system to make the Web look its best, and all available even before you fire up the browser.

Download the beta version of IE9 now from You'll need Windows 7 or Vista as it doesn't work on XP.