Improvements in Internet Explorer 8 - beta 2
Rival Windows browsers Firefox, Safari and Opera have slowly eaten away at the dominant position of Internet Explorer – thanks, amongst other things, to their much more consistent approach to product development. However, with Release 8 – now in fully-featured beta 2, Microsoft may regain its place at the top of the first division. It is available to download for Vista, XP and Windows Server 2003 from the Microsoft web site.
Among the many improvements in Internet Explorer 8, apart from the obvious, are some we had expected to see in its predecessor, as well as some genuine innovations. WebSlices help the user to quickly gain access to detailed information on web sites – for example by monitoring the movement of share prices or the latest bid prices in eBay auctions. Web designers can mark parts of web pages as 'WebSlices', which users can then add to their Favourites.
If the user opens a link from a page in a new tab, the browser treats the tabs as belonging together and highlights them in the same colour. This helps users to identify groups of tabs when they have a large number of pages open. Like Opera and Firefox, the Microsoft browser can now recover tabs and sessions that have been closed accidentally.
Many of its new features show that Microsoft has clearly taken inspiration from the competition. Safari also offers a private surfing mode, which prevents browser cookies, history and form data from being saved. Internet Explorer 8 calls this InPrivate Browsing. The browser's search function now also offers an auto suggest feature, similar to the one in Firefox. Not only that, but Internet Explorer will even show images within the search, if the search engine supports this feature. As the user types in the address bar, a list of suggestions drops down with relevant web sites from the browsing history, Favourites and RSS feeds, with the browser searching both URLs and page titles. This incremental test search feature was long overdue.
Accelerators make it easier to reuse information found on web sites. The user can highlight text using the mouse and forward it via a context menu to search engines, or to a Live Spaces blog. On the software's home page, Microsoft has published a list of many other such tools that can be integrated in the browser with a mouse click.
The developers claim that new features will make surfing with Internet Explorer even safer, particularly against phishing attacks. The address bar now shows the domain making it more difficult for phisher servers to get away with using spoofed addresses. If a script on a page loads another site, heuristics will estimate the risk and block it if necessary. This should make cross domain scripting attacks more difficult.
Browser tabs are now restricted to running only their own processes – if one crashes, it no longer takes the rest of the browser with it. The Microsoft browser does need to tackle a speed issue before the final version is released. An in-depth comparative test has revealed that it is slower than all its competitors.
Internet Explorer 8 is said to support the development of much better Ajax applications. For example, it now treats windows.location.hash updates as navigation. You can therefore navigate using the forward and back buttons in Ajax applications, as in other web pages, something that was not possible previously and which was a source of irritation to users. Thanks to the use of DOM Storage from (X)HTML5, Internet Explorer can now store large data volumes locally. As the new connectivity events allow developers to check whether the browser is online, applications can be written to like Google Gears, which works both online and offline.
The new browser represents a major leap forward as far as standards support is concerned. As the browser now has full CSS-2.1 support, it is able to pass the Acid2 test. On the Acid3 test, on the other hand, it only scores 20 out of a possible 100 points due to lack of SVG support. As well as the completely new rendering engine, which is active by default, Internet Explorer 8 includes the previous version. This can be activated via the menu command "Tools\Compatibility View", should any page fail to work with the new engine.
All in all, Internet Explorer 8 is a great improvement, and will doubtless help Microsoft bring a number of ex-users back into the fold.