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Microsoft claims massive speed boost in latest IE 11 build

The new Internet Explorer 11 for Windows 7 Release Preview is 30 percent faster than the competition, says Microsoft. But more importantly, Web browsing is once again a big deal in Redmond.

Buoyed by the good news of market share growth in August for Internet Explorer, Microsoft is touting major improvements in the new Internet Explorer 11 for Windows 7 Release Preview on Wednesday.

The virtual machine version of the IE 11 Release Preview will be available at later this week.

The IE 11 Release Preview, equivalent to the "release candidate" stage of the traditional software development cycle, is the last pre-release version of IE 11 before it becomes available to all Windows 7 owners. Roger Capriotti, IE's marketing director, would only say that the final version would be ready later this fall.

The IE 11 Release Preview follows July's IE 11 Developer Preview. Microsoft is claiming that the Release Preview is 5 percent faster than the Developer Preview, and more than 30 percent faster than the nearest competitive browser. While that's only on one benchmark, the Webkit-based JavaScript test SunSpider, it's still remarkable that IE wins out on any benchmark.

Microsoft also has removed the prefixes from the Pointer Events API for HTML5. That means the API will no longer need an IE-specific flag to work in non-IE browsers. The API governs how the browser reacts to input from multiple "pointers," including mouse, pen, and touch screens, which are of utmost importance to Microsoft now that most Windows 8 hardware ships with touch screens.

"We're confident that Pointer Events is a standard on its way to being recognized by the W3C," said Capriotti, referring to the Web developers group that must agree on new Web standards before they can be widely used.

Further changes in the new Release Preview include more customization options for fonts in closed-caption video playback, and support for the latest draft of the W3C's Do Not Track specification. Microsoft took a surprisingly aggressive stance with DNT when it turned it on by default in IE 10.

Microsoft's chart for SunSpider benchmark test times show big gains for IE 11. Microsoft

Work on the rebuilt F12 developer's tools in IE 11 continues in the Release Preview, with several options added since the Developer Preview debuted. Developers can create reproduceable performance results with an "always refresh from server" option, the DOM Explorer allows for better site fine-tuning, and WebGL errors will be mapped to their corresponing JavaScript location.

The upshot of this is that Microsoft isn't just making IE better for end-users, but trying to attract Web developers who may have left for a browser that gave them more options.

IE 11 for Windows 7 is a big deal to Microsoft for several reasons. Most importantly, the Windows 8 version of the browser will ship with Windows 8.1 on October 18, but the Windows 7 version of the browser gives it a toehold among people who use Windows but haven't upgraded.

IE 11 can now customize closed-captioning in video. Microsoft

The other is that, assuming Microsoft can get IE 11 for Windows 7 finalized around October 18, it will represent the second major update to IE in under a year -- IE 10 for Windows 7 launched months after IE 10 shipped with Windows 8. Two major updates to Internet Explorer within a year has happened a total of zero times before, and demonstrates that Microsoft's dedication to improving IE wasn't a one-time gambit.

IE 10 is doing well on Windows 7, Capriotti said. Its use is at a two-year high, according to Microsoft's numbers, and "Internet Explorer 6 is dropping nicely, at 6 percent worldwide or less," he said. "We're excited to see all those people coming to Internet Explorer."

If it turns out that IE's new good fortune is less of a market share blip and more of a permanent bump, IE will have pulled off one of the greatest product reversals of all time.