Microsoft has released the first Internet Explorer 9 platform preview, inviting web developers and enthusiasts to test drive the newest technologies slated for the next version of the web browser, aimed at making it faster, more secure and more standards compliant. The company plans to release these IE9 platform previews every 8 weeks, but has not yet committed to a date for a beta release.

However, the platform preview is not a complete browser and does not include tabs or even an address bar, it is essentially just the rendering engine and developers tools. However, this should be enough for developers to test the hardware accelerated rendering engine, which includes preliminary support for many HTML5 technologies, as well as the new JavaScript engine called Chakra, and much improved support for CSS, including nearly all CSS3 selectors as well as the border-radius property.

While this is just a preview build and should improve substantially as times goes by, already it scores substantially higher on the ACID3 test than the previous 21/100 achieved by IE8.

IE9 preview ACID3 results

Though the new browser doesn’t score perfectly on ACID3, Microsoft says that the score will improve as they implement the features of HTML, CSS3, and SVG required to score higher. The final release of IE9 is still not expected until 2011, so they’ve got some time left to improve and match competing browsers from Apple and Mozilla, whose current release versions of Safari 4 and Firefox 3.6 score 100/100 and 94/100, respectively.

However, Microsoft has not changed their stance on the ACID3 test itself. Back when IE8 was released, they had this to say:

“The concern Microsoft has is that if we burnt [draft standards] into Internet Explorer 8 and passed Acid3 with 120 percent and then deploy it on so many machines, especially in the enterprise, [we have made draft standards de-facto standards] when the W3C will then want to innovate on the [evolving] standards,”

“Our learning comes from IE6. With IE6 we adopted some non-recommended standards and interpreted them in a certain way. The end result of that has been painful web development.

Achieving a perfect score on ACID3 requires the browser to render SVG correctly, and to that end Internet Explorer 9 will also be the first version to include native support for it.

To demonstrate the new SVG support, Microsoft has created a Javascript+SVG version of the old Asteroids game available here. The game appears to work just fine in other browsers that already support SVG such as Firefox, Chrome, Safari and Opera.

The new browser will also support h.264 video out of the box, and Ars Technica is reporting that the platform preview will actually work with YouTube’s HTML5 video player, even though only Chrome and Safari are officially supported.

Internet Explorer 9 will also support hardware accelerated page rendering, using Direct2D and DirectWrite to make things like SVG graphics, video, and even text rendering much faster. Microsoft says this will allow CPU utilization to remain lower while browsing the web, potentially increasing battery life in portable devices. Support for this new feature is included in Windows 7 and an update is available to make it work in Windows Vista.

Unfortunately, at this time it appears that Direct2D will not work on Windows XP, but it is not yet clear if Microsoft will simply drop support for the older operating system, or release a version that simply continues to use the software rendering already present in IE8. For now, the platform preview released today will NOT work on Windows XP.

CNET is reporting that Microsoft plans to drop support for Windows XP when Internet Explorer 9 is released, and Internet Explorer general manager Dean Hachamovitch is quoted as saying “Building a modern browser requires a modern operating system”.

SunSpider results

The new Javascript engine, called Chakra, replaces the one included with IE8 and provides almost a 400% performance increase on the SunSpider Javascript benchmark. Chakra will compile Javascript down to native code much like Google’s V8 JavaScript engine, but will also allow some elements of Javascript to execute using GPU acceleration.

The improvements to Javascript execution should make existing and future web applications much faster, and will allow developers to write new ones without suffering a significant performance bottleneck on the browser still popular with 55% of internet users.

Overall, Internet Explorer 9 is shaping up to be a major improvement over previous versions of the browser, bringing with it a number of technologies that will please developers, as well as improvements for end users that will make the web faster and more interactive.