Unlike other web browsers, Internet Explorer 9 integrates with Windows in a very deep way, especially Windows 7. And the best Windows integration feature in IE 9, arguably, is its support of pinned web sites. That is, IE 9 allows you to pin your favorite web sites to the Windows 7 taskbar in a manner that is similar to the way you pin favorite applications. So your taskbar can contain a mixture of shortcuts for both local, Windows-based applications and web-based applications like Gmail, Amazon, and even the SuperSite for Windows. This mirrors the way you really work on your PC, and is thus logical and intuitive.

Of course, other web browsers, notably Google Chrome, offer basic functionality that is similar to IE 9's pinned web sites. But IE 9 exceeds those capabilities by providing pinned web sites with additional capabilities that are very similar to what's possible with pinned Windows applications. For example, pinned web sites can have custom thumbnail preview controls and customized jump lists, just like Windows applications, and they can support notifications.

Sites that are pinned exhibit slightly different behavior than other IE 9 windows. First, these special IE 9 windows take on the color scheme of the underlying site rather than using the default blue IE scheme. The Home button, normally located on the top right side of the IE 9 window is now moved to the top left side, to the left of the Back and Forward buttons. And this Home button no longer returns you to the browser's configured home page, but rather to the home page for the pinned site, that is, the page that you actually pinned to the taskbar.

Here are some of the things you can do with pinned web sites in IE 9.

Pin a web site to the Windows 7 taskbar

To pin a web site to the Windows 7 taskbar, launch IE 9 and then navigate to a favorite web site. Then, move the mouse over the web site's icon in the new One Box, which replaces the old IE 8 address bar.

IE 9 pinned web sites

Drag this icon down to the Windows 7 taskbar. You'll see a "Pin to taskbar" tooltip indicating that you can pin the site.

IE 9 pinned web sites

When you release the mouse button, the site is pinned to the taskbar.

IE 9 pinned web sites

Pin a web site to the Windows 7 Start Menu

You can optionally pin web sites to the Windows 7 Start Menu as well, though Microsoft feels that few people will do so given the more readily available location and convenience of the taskbar. To do so, drag a web site's One Box-based icon to the Start button and release it. Pinned web sites appear at the top of the Start Menu, as do pinned applications.

Create a shortcut to a favorite web site

IE 9 also uses the pinned web site behavior when you save a shortcut to a favorite web site to the desktop or another location in the shell. To see this in action, drag a web site's One Box-based icon to the desktop and release it. The shortcut will take on the pinned web site icon appearance and will launch a similarly configured, special IE window when launched.

Launch a pinned web site

To access a pinned web site, simply click its taskbar button, just as you would for any Windows application. The web site launches in a special IE window that is colored to match the primary color scheme of the site. As you can see, the Home button has changed--it takes on the look of the site's favicon icon--and has moved to the left of the Back button.

IE 9 pinned web sites

Subsequent new tabs and new windows will also take on the look and feel of the pinned site, and the Home button behavior is that of the pinned site, not of IE. However, you can of course launch separate IE windows using the normal means.

Access the site's jump list

Web sites can optionally provide a custom jump list that will appear only when the site is pinned. To access a pinned web site's jump list, right-click the pinned site on the taskbar. (Alternatively, you can click and drag up.) You will see one of two types of jump lists. Sites that are not IE 9 ready will display a standard, non-customized jump list with one task (Start InPrivate Browsing), and links for the site and to unpin the site.

IE 9 pinned web sites

Customized sites can display a number of different items. First, they can display up to five tasks, which will display within a list named Tasks. These tasks can be almost anything, each with its own custom icon, and can include links to web pages (on the site or off), the site's RSS feed, an email contact address, and so on. Additionally, sites are free to create their own jump list category, which can have its own name and contain any number of links, each with a custom icon. This custom category can also be used to display notifications or any other dynamic information. There can be up to 12 items in the category list.

IE 9 pinned web sites

IE 9 pinned web sites

Use icon overlays and notifications

Web sites that provide a custom IE 9 experience can optionally provide an overlay on its pinned taskbar button. This overlay is typically used to indicate that a status change or notification is available. The canonical example, of course, is an email web application like Hotmail, Outlook Web Access, or Gmail, which could provide a number in its icon overlay related to the number of unread emails.

IE 9 pinned web sites

Or a calendar web application could display a small graphic indicating that an appointment has arrived.

IE 9 pinned web sites
(Mockup image courtesy of Microsoft.)

Use custom thumbnail preview controls

If you've used a media playback application like Windows Media Player 11, Zune, or Apple iTunes, you've probably seen that these applications provide custom thumbnail preview controls for media playback, allowing you to perform simple actions without returning to the full application window.

IE 9 pinned web sites

In IE 9, pinned web sites can offer the same functionality. And, as you might imagine, you'll typically see this kind of customization on media playback services like Jango or, in the future, Pandora.

IE 9 pinned web sites

You access such a control just as you would with a native Windows application. With media player, simply mouse over the site's taskbar button. The thumbnail preview will appear, customized with playback controls.

Pinned web sites and browser add-ons

A number of readers have written in to comment on and complain about the fact that IE 9 does not load browser plug-ins for pinned web sites. I've asked Microsoft to explain this behavior, so please stay tuned.

Final thoughts

Pinned web sites is a brilliant addition to Internet Explorer 9, because it allows sites to perform and act more like local Windows applications. It also provides the user with a way to comingle the solutions they use every day, whether they're on the PC or on the web.

According to Microsoft, this functionality also takes advantage of the fact that the pinned application capability that it added to Windows 7 has proven hugely popular with users. It says that while only a tiny percentage of IE users even utilize the browser's Favorites functionality, fully 87 percent of Windows 7 users have used a pinned taskbar application. And 62 percent of them have customized the taskbar with their own shortcuts. This is a feature people are really using, and transitioning it to web sites makes sense.