Big browser and RIA news: Canvas comes to Internet Explorer 9

I’ve just installed the third Internet Explorer Platform Preview (on a virtual machine just in case) and run through a few of the demos. One of the most impressive is Canvas Pad, which demonstrates the HTML 5 Canvas element.

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Canvas is particularly interesting, since it provides a surface to which you can draw anything you like. Canvas support was not announced at Mix earlier this year, when IE9 was unveiled, and some of us speculated that Microsoft would omit it in order to preserve the value of its Silverlight plugin – though in doing so it would also help Adobe Flash. Well, apparently the IE9 team decided to risk it. Not only is canvas supported; it is also hardware-accelerated:

Like all of the graphics in IE9, canvas is hardware accelerated through Windows and the GPU. Hardware accelerated canvas support in IE9 illustrates the power of native HTML5 in a browser.

Is there still value in Silverlight and Flash? There is, for several reasons. A plug-in presents a predictable runtime, insulating the application from browser variations. A plugin will work on browsers that do not yet support Canvas. Further, Silverlight includes the .NET Framework with its rich library, and supports the .NET languages, whereas for HTML5 you have to use JavaScript – though don’t forget Google Web Toolkit, which compiles Java to JavaScript, and other similar projects.

Even so, once you have hardware-accelerated Canvas there will be few occasions when you absolutely have to use Flash, Silverlight or Java.

Microsoft is doing the right thing. Crippling IE for the sake of Silverlight would only push users to other browsers, so it would not achieve its goal.

A full list of what is new in IE9 is here. It is shaping up to be the most interesting new IE since version 4.0 back in 1997.

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Related posts:

  1. Testing the Canvas element in Internet Explorer 9
  2. Internet Explorer 9 Preview gets to 95% on Acid 3
  3. HTML 5 Canvas: the only plugin you need?
  4. What’s the story with IE9 and embedded Internet Explorer?
  5. Internet Explorer 10 Platform Preview 2 gets web workers, HTML5 sandbox

2 comments on this post.
  1. Phillip:

    I can see another scenario for Canvas vs plugin: The one or the other (depending on usage scenario), can provide graceful downgrading. Not that I think this’ll happen. Just use NoScript, and marvel at the host of sites where “no JS” results in a “Get Flash here” link.

    Open standards are fine, but if developers fail to use them properly… *sigh*

  2. Craig:

    Canvas is not really a competitor to Silverlight in the majority of cases. I think Silverlight’s greatest strength is leveraging the .NET framework to build rich web applications, not just flashy demos.