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Internet Explorer 8

Last week Microsoft released Internet Explorer 8, the latest iteration of its dominant Internet browser. While most features were already known about IE 8 (there had been three previous beta releases, the last one just a couple of months ago in January), it was still eagerly anticipated and was met with much fanfare in the technology press.

For the most part, reviews have been very positive. Most commentators clearly believe that IE8 puts Microsoft ahead of the competition, particularly Mozilla’s Firefox 3, which continues to attract support and has carved out a small but significant market share.

So, without getting into too many technical details, here are some basic features of IE8 and The Online Mom’s take on where you will see immediate improvements over the previous version.

  • IE8 is only available for Vista and Windows XP. If you are using the beta version of Windows 7, you will have to wait for a separate update or, more likely, until Windows 7 is in public release.
  • Download is free. Just go to www.microsoft.com/ie8 or Microsoft’s Download Center. Installation only takes 5–10 minutes depending on the speed of your processor. You will need to close out other applications and re-start your computer to complete the installation.
  • If you are currently using IE7, IE8 is fast. Page load times are noticeably quicker. Microsoft also claims that it is up to 50% faster than “other top browsers” but that claim has met with some skepticism by the trade reviewers.
  • If you work with multiple pages open at the same time, you will definitely appreciate the new tab handling. If you open a new tab from an existing page, then those tabs are grouped together and color coded, making it far easier to move around related pages. Previously, tabs were located strictly in the order they were opened. You can also drag tabs into an existing group and right-click on any tab to control its entire group.
  • Like Firefox and Google’s Chrome browser, the address bar of IE8 now operates like a search tool. Type in a term and IE will conduct a search using your default search engine. Start to type in any web address and IE8 will search your history and favorites and present a list of the most recently accessed pages.
  • The InPrivate Browsing feature (known in some quarters as "porn mode"), allows users to browse the Internet without leaving a trace of that particular session once the browser is closed out. That means that all cookies, temporary Internet files, browsing history, form information, user names and passwords all vanish when the session ends.
  • Other security features include InPrivate Filtering, which is designed to prevent Web sites from sharing information about your browsing habits without your knowledge, and a SmartScreen filter, which warns you when you are about to enter a site known to harbor “malware”.
  • If  you regularly visit sites that were designed to operate with IE7, no worries – IE8 has Compatability View, which basically tells the site that you’re running IE7 and presents results as if you were actually using that version.
  • IE8 also has built-in applications called Accelerators and Web Slices. Both these features grab additional information from other web pages and services without the user having to vist them. A typical Accelerator could be the application of Live Maps, where you highlight an address and a pop-up will display the location. Web Slices can show changing data like stock quotes or sports scores, without having to keep a separate page open.

All in all, most reviewers suggest that if you are currently running IE7, upgrading to IE8 is a no-brainer. The real question is: does it do enough to persuade defectors to Firefox and other browsers to switch back to IE? Here the response is less certain, but IE8 clearly puts Microsft back in charge of the browser wars….for now.  

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