Want to know what IE10 will look like? Don't look at the first platform preview that you can download today.
As with the IE9 platform previews, this first look at Internet Explorer 10 isn't a full browser with bookmarks and toolbars and settings; it's just a wrapper around the first version of the IE10 rendering engine (10.0.1000.16394), designed to let users try out the nine new demos on the IE Test Drive Site and to let developers see how IE10 will support the new Web standards it's going to include.
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Not only is there no new user interface, but like the IE9 platform previews you don't even get the interface of the current browser. That means to open a web page you have to click the Page menu and type or paste in the URL. To print a web page you have to choose Print Preview and the only option you can set is whether web sites that use geolocation can find out where you are.
Everything else is tools to help developers see how their sites look in IE10 in its various document modes - and a link for submitting bugs and feedback.
You don't want to do your daily browsing in the platform preview - and you don't have to, because it installs alongside IE9. In fact the install is so straightforward you don't even have to restart IE9 afterwards - the platform preview opens automatically with its own icon in the taskbar.
9 AND 10: IE10 Platform Preview isn't a full browser so it runs alongside IE8 or 9
You can use it with IE8, but Microsoft warns that the preview may crash and have to be killed from Task Manager. And unlike the IE9 platform previews, the IE10 preview doesn't work on Windows Vista (even with SP2), just Windows 7.
Test driving IE10
If you don't have a bleeding edge website of your own to try out, the IE Test Drive site, which is set as the home page, showcases the first of the new web standards IE10 is previewing.
The Fish Bowl demo updates the FishIE demo with HTML5 video (for the water), which IE9 can do, and CSS3 gradients, which it can't, all hardware accelerated; the Paintball game also shows off hardware acceleration.
You can also play with making gradients using CSS and SVG using multiple colours, and angles; these are going to speed up web pages by replacing background images that have to be downloaded and tiled with script commands.
GO FISH: Hardware accelerated HTML5 video and new CSS3 features swimming happily together
COLOURFUL: CSS gradients can replace background images
New standards support
The three other new standards supported in the preview work together for page layout. The TweetFlow demo shows off CSS3 multi-column support; as new tweets arrive and you change the size of the page, the columns stay neat and text flows smoothly into the right number of columns to fill the page without leaving any words behind. This is a stable specification and other browsers like Chrome support multi-column but the column flow isn't always as smooth.
LINE UP: The multi-column spec isn't new, but IE10 has an implementation that flows text into place neatly
CSS3 Flexible Box Layout is a spec that's still changing but it's useful for resizing elements to fit different size pages. The flexible layout demo isn't very exciting, but it shows two columns that get resized in proportion and two that stay the same size as you resize the page.
SCALE ME: It doesn't look very exciting but having a simple way for columns to resize correctly on web pages will be great for web apps
Put that together with CSS3 Grid Alignment - a draft specification that senior lead program manager Markus Mielke calls "hot off the press" for laying content out in a grid on a web page - and you can get sites that reflow content and resize elements to fit different sizes of screens.
You can see how that works with the Gridddle demo: as you resize the window, you see fewer columns, smaller menus and eventually a different layout - so the same page could automatically fit itself to a smartphone and rotate on a tablet as well as working a standard PC screen.
Mielke calls IE10 "the world premiere of the first browser to implement this spec," which isn't surprising as Microsoft actually proposed it.
MULTIPLE LAYOUTS: This is the same site, just in a smaller window, but it gets a completely different interface suited to a smaller screen
"Other browser vendors are interested in grid layout, " he said "and we're working closely with them to make sure we have interoperability," but while lots of web designers will like being able to lay out web pages like print pages it's also going to be particularly useful for Windows developers switching over to making web apps.
"If you're familiar with the Windows Presentation Foundation grid, some concepts should sound familiar," Mielke agreed.
Hot on IE9's heels
The most important thing about the platform preview of IE10 is that we're getting it now, three weeks after the release of IE9.
That says that Microsoft is planning to keep IE up to date, at least on the web standards it deems to be ready for developers to use - or the ones it's particularly keen to get feedback on because they're strategic for things like tablets on Windows 8.
None of the still-evolving standards that Microsoft is showing developers through its HTML5 Labs site have made it into the first preview, (although Microsoft is adding prototypes for the File API for accessing files on the PC and the Media Capture API for using webcams and microphones in the browser to the Silverlight plugin that adds WebSockets support to IE and IndexedDB local storage already on HTML5 Labs).
It's a two-tier system; if those standards mature in time, they could be in the IE10 release along with CSS transitions and transforms (two features Microsoft has announced for future previews).