What are apps, other than tiny colorful icons that provide rich, interactive experiences on mobile devices? Think about your iPhone’s New York Times or Facebook app. They don’t feel like an installed program—they’re much less clunky—nor a website, which is anything but native. Apps are some lighter in-between. Now Microsoft is trying to bring that same concept to Windows 7.
Today, the company launched Internet Explorer 9, its latest browser iteration, which fully embraces HTML5. Boiled down, HTML5 is the next version of HTML, the backbone of Internet—that is, the predominant computer language developers use to build Web pages. It boasts incredibly strong media playback and modern Web standards. Many—including Apple—believe it could one day replace Adobe Flash. But for Microsoft, it has become a vehicle for migrating apps to the PC.
When IE9 officially launches later today, it will do so along with a slew of partners. Thanks to the power of HTML5, many of these partners from Amazon to CNN are taking advantage of IE9’s optimized platform to create immersive app-like experiences. Rather than opening IE9 and punching in an address, users may soon be pinning these "apps" to their taskbar. Redbull, for instance, will offer an interactive social media page complete with music and video. IMDB’s app will show off high-def trailers, only now possible in HTML5 with IE9. And Amazon has created a page that feels like a virtual bookstore, with access to daily deals and other features through Windows 7’s jump-lists.
"For Amazon, we wanted to re-imagine what shopping is online," says Ryan Gavin, senior director of IE9’s business and marketing. He says that the response from those who've seen the Amazon demo say it feels like an app or something on their iPad. "But it’s not. It’s a website," Gavin says.
According to Gavin, Microsoft’s aim was to create a site-centric, not browser-centric, Internet Explorer that has revved-up HTML5 support. Frame rates are explosive—early comparison tests have showed big gains on Chrome and Firefox—and high-def video is handled beautifully, thanks to big tweaks to hardware acceleration.
"Websites used to have to be very flat, lowest-common denominator experiences," explains Gavin. "With HTML5, you can make as rich an experience as an app."
Think of how companies can take advantage of this new experience, especially with pinning on Windows 7. Hulu and eBay may become items on your taskbar, next to IE9 itself. For Microsoft, this was the primary focus of IE9.
"The browser is the theater—not the play, so how do we let the browser get out of the way?" says Gavin. "It’s no longer a matter of opening Internet Explorer to get here or there. Now, you can just pin the app to your taskbar."
For Windows 7 users, IE9 enables a new kind of desktop client. It’s not about downloading and installing a clunky program, or launching a prehistoric HTML website. Microsoft wants its users to have pin-and-click access, a concept that could heavily benefit businesses once HTML5 becomes ubiquitous.
"The website has been promoted to a first-class citizen," Gavin says.