Continuing its efforts to be more open and accessible, Microsoft today released the Internet Explorer Developer Channel: a version of Internet Explorer with preview versions of forthcoming features and capabilities.
Microsoft has released betas of Internet Explorer in the past, but these have always been tied to a specific future version of the browser. When that version of the browser is eventually released, the beta program is wound up, and the beta browser stops being updated. Recently, these betas haven't even been fully fledged browsers, but rather barebones shells around the core rendering engine.
With the Developer Channel, Microsoft is aiming for something a little different. The Developer Channel isn't Internet Explorer 12 beta. The company's intent is to keep it updated as an ongoing project, and while the new engine features will generally find their way into the release version of the browser at some point down the line, Microsoft isn't pegging them to any specific version number.
This makes Internet Explorer's Developer Channel much closer in spirit to Google Chrome's developer channel and Mozilla Firefox's Aurora builds. Microsoft hasn't yet detailed how the Developer Channel will be updated, whether those updates will be manual or automatic, or what the release frequency will be. If the company sticks to the pattern established by competing browsers, it'll be an automatic update every six weeks or so, though this, too, will be a break from the norms established by past Internet Explorer betas. They used manual updates and a much more variable schedule.
The first Developer Channel release offers preview support for a couple of new specifications: WebDriver and the Gamepad API. WebDriver is a standard for browser automation. It enables scripts to do things like click links, navigate around pages, and fill forms. The purpose of the API is to make Web content more amenable to automated testing; with WebDriver, developers can programmatically drive Web pages as if there were a real person sitting at the keyboard.
The Gamepad API does what its name would imply: it lets browser-based games support gamepad input. Microsoft has retrofitted some of its past Web content, such as Escape from XP, Hover.IE, and Atari Arcade, to support the Gamepad API.
The release also includes new WebGL capabilities, taking the browser's conformance test score on the official Khronos WebGL Conformance Test up to 97 percent.
Again, like the competing developer releases of other browsers—and unlike past Internet Explorer betas—the Internet Explorer Developer Channel includes various non-engine updates, too. The F12 Developer Tools, already substantially upgraded in Internet Explorer 11, pick up a bunch of new features. These include user interface changes, such as new icons and keyboard shortcuts, and also functional changes: better autocomplete, attaching breakpoints to events, clearer visualization of the memory usage of objects in a page, and much more.