Windows 7 added a number of interesting new UI features like the all-new taskbar with pinned application shortcuts, jump lists, thumbnail previews, and so on. And one of the most excellent bits of functionality in Internet Explorer 9 is that this browser brings these features to your favorite web sites. This allows you to access applications and web sites side by side, in the same manner. Which makes plenty of sense because, when you think about it, the "applications" you access each day are indeed a mix of locally-installed Windows applications and web sites. With IE 9, web sites become first class citizens under Windows 7.

So what does this mean? It means you can pin web site shortcuts to the Windows 7 taskbar, just as you can with application shortcuts. These web site short cuts look and work just like local applications, and (can) provide a custom icon, a custom jump list, and even a thumbnail preview that includes media playback if that's appropriate. And web sites that are pinned to the taskbar work like standalone applications; they run in special IE windows that are colorized and customized to match the look and feel of the actual site.

Internet Explorer 9 Beta
Internet Explorer 9 Beta
Pinned applications and web sites, side-by-side in the Windows 7 taskbar.

I've already customized the SuperSite for Windows to include these features, which should prove, somewhat, how easy it is. Here, you can see my custom icon on the taskbar, a simple jump list, which in this case provides links to certain SuperSite URLs, the automatic colorization of the IE 9 UI elements, and the site icon in the browser, which works like the Home button, but always returns you to the site's home page.

Internet Explorer 9 Beta
The SuperSite is already IE 9-aware, with a custom jump list and taskbar icon.

 

So let's examine each of these features in turn.

Pinned web sites. IE 9 allows you to pin web site shortcuts to the Windows taskbar and Start menu just as you would application shortcuts. To do so, you drag the site icon from the One Box (address bar) to either location. If you're familiar with how this works with applications, there are no huge surprises. But when you do pin a web site, the IE window will reappear with automatic customizations: The Home button is gone, replaced by a new site home button that appears to the left of the Back button. The Back and Forward buttons are colorized to match the site design. And the pinned shortcut gets some default jump list items, assuming the site hasn't customized that.

Internet Explorer 9 Beta
Another look at pinned web sites.

Aero snap. There are a bunch of tab innovations in IE 9, but the coolest is the ability to tear-off a tab from the IE 9 window and use Windows Aero Snap to "snap" it to the right or left side of the screen. This way, you can easily compare sites side-by-side. Interestingly, some browser makers are copying this functionality, notably Google with Chrome, but they're not using Aero Snap, so the effects are non-standard. (IE 9 also includes a neat New Tab display that is minimalistic and less showy than similar screens in other browsers.)

Internet Explorer 9 Beta
IE 9 tabs support Aero Snap in Windows 7.

Jump Lists. As noted above, pinned sites get a minimal, simple jump list. But sites can customize their jump lists using basic HTML and JavaScript, as I've done for the SuperSite. Using this customization capability, sites can add up to five static links, notifications, and more.

Internet Explorer 9 Beta
A custom IE 9 jump list, for the SuperSite.

Icon overlays. Sites can also design their taskbar icons to support icon overlays. So for example, an email site like Hotmail or Outlook Web Access might use this capability to display an overlay with the number of unread emails. It doesn't have to be that precise: The overlay can be used for notifications, letting the user know something has changed on the site.

Internet Explorer 9 Beta
Pinned sites can have custom icon overlays for site notifications.

Thumbnail preview controls. Media sites and other web sites can also create custom controls that appear in the thumbnail preview when the user mouses over the site's pinned icon. The canonical example is a site like Pandora or Jango that could expose media playback controls via this interface.

Internet Explorer 9 Beta
Sites can also optionally provide custom controls in the icon's mouse-over thumbnail preview.

Next: More New Features