Microsoft’s preview of Windows 8.1 is now available to download, and one of the most exciting new features is the inclusion of Internet Explorer 11. In a massive about-turn, after declaring WebGL to be insecure and working on its own HTTP replacement, IE11 will support WebGL and Google’s SPDY protocol. HTML5 support is also much improved, and some much-needed interface tweaks have been deployed.
The inclusion of WebGL, now that Microsoft is assured of its security, is a no-brainer. The inclusion of SPDY, however, before its own HTTP S+M protocol, is a bit of a puzzler. Back in 2012, citing a lack of mobile- and app-oriented features in Google’s SPDY protocol, Microsoft unveiled HTTP S+M. S+M is actually based on SPDY, and provides the same kind of speed-up over normal HTTP (on the order 40%). Microsoft presumably chose SPDY because it’s more mature and already in use across the web, most notably on Google’s services. At this point, it isn’t clear if this is a tacit admission that Microsoft is handing the HTTP 2.0 standard to Google and ceasing development of its own S+M spec. Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer now all support SPDY.
Also new in IE11: You can now open as many tabs as you want (and tabs now appear at the bottom, near your thumbs, rather than at the top); Improved developer tools (not as good as Firefox, but getting there); and tabs now sync across your Windows 8.1 (and probably Windows Phone/Xbox) devices. With Windows 8.1′s improved app snapping, you can now use IE11 to side-by-side two tabs, which is neat, too. There’s still no sign of WebRTC, though, which means websites still can’t access your webcam and microphone.
Now read: The death of Firefox