Internet Explorer 8: Review

Friday Mar 7th 2008 by Ronald Barrett
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IE8 offers a variety of new features, as well as some improvements on existing browsing tools. Just watch out for those glitches in toolbar add-ons.

Also see: Review: Internet Explorer 8: Simplified Browsing (April 2009).

It's here – it’s finally here. I’m talking about the public beta for Internet Explorer 8. Here’s the download page for Internet Explorer 8.

Now it may seem premature to be so excited, especially about a BETA 1 release. We’ll let me digress and explain why I’ve felt such keen anticipation.

In November 2007, I was hired to write some materials on Microsoft’s new WindowsHPC offering. This led to work on the new PerformancePoint Server product and even some research papers comparing Windows Server 2008 to Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.

Well, being this heavily involved, I thought I’d ask my client for a favor. Yep – you guessed it: I wanted a crack at the new IE8 software while it was in private beta. I thought that since I was working with three different teams at Redmond I was sure to get a preview.

I was wrong. And for me it has been a long anticipated wait. Yes, I was downloading the beta the moment the links were live.

At first look, Internet Explorer 8 doesn’t seem much different from version 7. In fact, most of the base features are the same. Therefore, XP users who are still reeling over the complete Vista interface overhaul can relax – it still looks like Internet Explorer. However, they’ve packed in some cool new features. Let’s look at what they are and discuss how this newest browser will not only be more fun to use, but actually help you be more productive.

What’s New in the World of Web Browsing?

IE 8 has five new or improved features for the end user. (A little later I’ll cover some of the “under the hood” adjustments in this new release.) The features we’re talking about are:

• Activities

internet explorer 8

Activities in Internet Explorer 8

• WebSlices

• Favorites Bar

• Automatic Crash Recovery

• Improved Phishing Filter

So let’s take a closer look at each. We begin with Activities:

Activities are services that, to put it simply, normally call for a copy and paste action in IE7 and earlier, in order to access additional information.

For example, if you needed to get the address and map a route to a sports arena, you’d go to their website, copy the address, then paste it into a map website such as Live Maps. With Activities, you simply highlight your selection and the activities button appears. This button gives you the option to map an address (a preview of activities is available without launching a whole new tab or page). Post to your favorite blog site, send an email message, search, translate, define, and even share the content easily.

WebSlices are an exciting new technology in Internet Explorer 8. WebSlices work like RSS feeds; you simply go to sites that are enabled for WebSlices, like eBay or Facebook. Simply click on the WebSlice button and add it to your favorites bar.

Then from any webpage, your updated content will appear with bold type. Clicking on the item will open a view to give you an update. From here, you can either open the full page or delete the WebSlice (without ever leaving your current page).

The Favorites Bar is both a new feature and an improved feature. What does this mean? The Favorites bar replaces the links bar from IE 7. (The Links bar provided one-click access to favorite sites). The Favorites bar has been renamed (the improved part) to associate this as the place to put your WebSlices, RSS feeds, links and even Office documents (this is the new part). All this provides easy access and management to useful web content.

Automatic Crash Recovery (ACR) is another new feature in IE8 that many would say is long overdue.

The advent of tabbed browsing means that users can be more productive within a single browser. How many times have you had several different tabs open only to have a site crash IE 7 and lose all your content? Well, Automatic Crash Recovery is designed to recover your web pages in case of a crash or “hang” in your web browser. ACR will help minimize disruptions and improve your productivity.

An Improved Phishing Filter has now added a safety filter, and this safety filter does more than block sites that are used for phishing. Internet Explorer 8 builds on the success of the phishing filter and now blocks sites known to contain malicious software that could harm user’s computers.

In summary, these improvements make browsing easier, more productive, and really much more fun. With IE8, Microsoft has succeeded in changing the Web browsing experience.

Now this is a beta release, so there are some things to note. I myself do not use extra toolbars such as Google or Yahoo toolbar. I’m not one for clutter, not on my desktop and not in my browser (but that being said, I know I’m the exception not the rule. I also realize that this has more to do with my own personal OCD computer habits). However, reports have been coming in from several sources that Internet Explorer 8 beta 1 has not been playing well with the toolbar plug-ins, and has caused browser crashes. Nevertheless, it’s a beta and that what betas are for – to work out the bugs.

Now I mentioned earlier that there are some things going on in IE 8 that are “behind the scenes,” so to speak. Some of these improvements are a move to Standards support; this includes CSS compliance, improvements to AJAX navigation, built-in developer tools to test pages before they’re put into production, and improvements to HTML and Active X controls.

Add in backwards compatibility for legacy browsers and it’s easy to see Internet Explorer 8 is striving to the premier Web browser for both the end user and developer/Web designer.

Well, I have installed and run with IE8 for three days now and I can only add that I can’t wait to see how the various Web sites take advantage of the new features, particularly the WebSlices and Activities features. No doubt Web browsing is going to morph and Internet Explorer 8 is in position to be a big part of that change.

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