SEATTLE – Microsoft Corp. unveiled the “beta” test version of Internet Explorer 9 on Wednesday, the first of a new generation of Web browser programs that tap into the powerful processors on board newer computers to make websites load and run faster.

IE9, which is free, also arrives with a more minimalist look and a few new tricks that start to blur the distinction between a website and a traditional desktop application.

Following the lead of Google Inc.’s stripped-down Chrome browser, Microsoft’s IE9 comes with far fewer buttons, icons and toolbars cluttering up the top of the screen. Its frame is translucent, and as people browse the Web, IE9 can be subtly adorned with small icons and signature colors of the websites being viewed.

The new browser also takes cues from Windows 7, Microsoft’s most recent operating system software for personal computers. In Windows 7, people can “pin” favorite programs to the task bar at the bottom of the screen, creating a one-click shortcut. They also can customize a menu of options for each program, such as opening a frequently used file in Microsoft Word.

The aesthetic changes bring IE9 in line with Microsoft’s newer software, but the changes under the hood push Microsoft’s technology a step ahead of its competition.

The browser can take advantage of multicore microprocessors to crunch website code faster. It also uses the PC’s graphics processing unit to make images, animations, movie clips and other visuals appear or play faster.

“What I saw impressed me,” said Endpoint Technologies Associates analyst Roger Kay, who attended Microsoft’s media event to promote the new browser Wednesday in San Francisco. “This product is good. It’s pretty and it’s fast.”

The new IE9 browser works on PCs with Windows 7 or Vista, but not on PCs with the much more widely used Windows XP computers or on Macs. The test version is available for download at beautyoftheweb.com.