It has been in development for a long time now with the first beta released back in March of 2008. Microsoft is once again back on track with regular releases of the Internet Explorer. Version 7 released back in November of 2006 was what some would say a necessary release that infused the platform with new momentum and reinsured its trust in end users while keeping Mozilla Firefox at bay, who are also continuing their fight against IE with the Firefox 3.5 release which by the way offers some new nifty features. The fundamentals of this Internet Explorer release revolve around Microsoft’s security initiatives, improved compatibility and developer experience. Microsoft also took a different approach to beta testing this release of Internet Explorer, instead of the usual private testing phase then a public test, the Company started out the gate with a public release for the first beta which I consider to be a welcome change to how it engages with customers. It proves that the Company is interested in what we say and want us to help shape the future of the browser which should be a good opportunity.
Internet Explorer 8 is available for Windows XP x86, x64, Server 2003 x86, x64, Vista x86, x64, Server 2008 x86 and x64. Phew, that’s a lot; I wish the IE Team would just consolidate this down to just two executables, 32 and 64 bit. I focused on testing IE 8 on Vista 64 bit. Installation is a quick and easy 5 step process requiring one restart to complete setup. When you launch Internet Explorer 8 for the first time, you are presented with a configuration wizard; this basically enables features such as Suggested Sites for discovering similar sites of interest based sites you visit. Also, you can let IE gives you the option of choosing a whole sale of Windows Live branded services and tools for Internet task such as Search, Translation, Mapping, Email, Definition and Blogging along with search and compatibility.
It seems the toolbar area has taken a definite step back, especially where it concerns screen real estate. I respected IE 7’s focus on consolidating and simplifying the Interface. Now with IE 8 where there were only two toolbars, now there are three layers, not to mention the occasional pop-up banner and the fact that the Tab toolbar shares space with a set of browser controls such as Home, RSS, Email, Print, Page and Tools makes the Interface look like a total kludge. I will admit, I don’t own a 24 inch wide screen Dell LCD, but I do own a 17 inch Dell CRT which maxes out at 1024 by 768, so you basically get the idea that I am in a squeeze here. As for that additional toolbar, it’s called Favorites Bar, a place that host snippets of subscribed content from sites you regularly visit. Although you can remove it by right clicking the toolbar and uncheck the Favorites Bar option, it will return to its original state when the Web slices feature is invoked. What the IE Team could have done here was to make the IE 8 Add Favorites buttons be integrated to left of address bar similar to the Refresh and Stop buttons. It would seem like a logical idea that un-clutters the interface and streamline its look and feel, Firefox 3 already has a similar feature.
Internet Explorer 8 introduces a lot of ease of use comforts though; areas such as the Address Bar are now streamlined to make navigating the interface a sure pleasure for surfers. Auto Completion now suggest websites that you might want to go to, suggestions are based on your history of websites you like to visit, your personal web browsing history and Feeds that you have subscribed to. Typing in a URL offers some address bar tricks, if you click the arrow below the URL in the middle, it will reveal a number of commands.
Hands down, this beats Firefox in the Power User category, offering a faster, more intelligent browsing experience. It also lessens the repetitiveness of common takes that users often do in the browser. One thing would have made this feature even more friendly and powerful, an actual command key to reveal the commands, instead of shifting between the keyboard and mouse. Changes such as a single Favourites button, chrome based skin with a flatter appearance and removal of the Tools and Feeds menu (but changes back to Feeds when browsing), are now pushed under the chevron. Taking the spotlight are Web Slices, Read Mail and Safety. Internet Explorer 8’s Address bar also details information such as the type of application protocol along with the domain name and top level domain name. It might not seem readily useful but makes it easier to identify the security of a website along with the domain name.
The search box features new
convenience improvements to its search facilities, providing more detailed
options when text is typed in called Visual Search. For instance, based on
your search history, a list of Search option links are listed by the Search
Engine of choice. Type in ‘Mariah Carey’ for example and you will see a
number of query filters, which could range from lyrics, songs, soundboard,
news, jokes or popular topics. Search suggestions can also be populated
based on your history. If you want to get the latest weather report without
going to a weather site, Live Search provides results right there, simply
enter your location. I also love the new tabbed Search on the fly option
which allows you to quickly change Search engines based on your query. I use
Wikipedia a lot, it’s very cumbersome having to type in the query through
Google, search for it then open Wikipedia. With this feature, you are take
immediacy to the source, which is sure to be a hit with those who want a
more detailed browsing experience with better results.
Accelerator and Web Slices
Integration with Windows Live would of course be a must. You can see this already through the Search Field, but version 8 takes it a little further by integrating it deep into other parts of the browser, such as the contextual menus called Accelerators. For instance, right clicking a link gives you a choice of options such as blogging with Windows Live Spaces, email with Live Mail or Translate through Windows Live. Highlighted text on a page adds additional options such as Searching through your Default search engine define with Encarta and even search through Live Maps. Users familiar with Smart Tags in Microsoft Office might also find the Accelerator menu share some distant similarities; it gives you additional options for finding and management of these extensions. It ultimately eliminates the mundane task of copying text back and forth between web pages. Internet Explorer 8 introduces Favorites Bar which includes the new Web Suggestions feature for finding similar sites of interest for a particular website you are browsing. Another unique addition in IE 8 is Web Slices which allow for sections of a web page to be subscribed, stored and monitored from the Favourites Bar without having to go to the actual site. The success of Web Slices will ultimately depend on how many web pages out there decide to support it, also It doesn’t work for me sometimes, for example, I tried to get the weather update from a web slice I created for ‘Kingston, Jamaica’ but IE refused to display the results, instead, displaying only a ‘page not available message’. It’s a neat idea though that promises to make information obtained from the Internet more personalized.
Developer & Compatibility
Microsoft has not forgotten
about improved performance and compatibility. The browser definitely feels
snappier, using IE 8 on a mobile phone connection web pages load respectably
faster, it seems like some significant changes have been made to the caching
engine itself. The IE 8 Team have noted that considerable improvements have
been made to the HTML parse, CSS engine, Jscript runtime and the associated
garbage collector. Version 8 offers a compatibility layer, so that sites
designed for an older version of the browser will continue functioning as
normal. Common problems you might see if a website is not updated to support
the latest features in the browser include, out of place menus, images, or
text. An integrated contextual compatibility button built into the address
bar appears next to the Refresh and Stop button whenever compatibility
issues are detected, when clicked it refreshes the website and presents it
in its original state as if you were browsing in a supported version of the
browser, nice! What I notice when you do enable Compatibility mode is, you
lose access to some of the new features of the browser.
To really gauge its performance I believe I have the perfect setup, my Motorola 350 cellular phone which I use as a dial up modem. To be honest, you are not gonna notice any major difference between the browsers speed if you are running on a DSL connection since pages just load instantly. With the dial up configuration I was able to see some nuances and indicators that proved which browser and which version definitely is faster when it comes to surfing.
Security, Reliability & Add-Ons
The new InPrivate mode allows users to clear any private information such as cookies, visited web pages and the entire session itself. There is also an improvement to Phishing Filter through Smart Screen which puts greater focus on web pages that try to collect personal information from users; it’s great for preventing scamming sites that utilize URLs such as PayPal or known banking merchants. This is done through a black list of known or suspected phishing sites so it’s an ongoing game of cat and mouse, users should still be cautious about how they enter personal information on the web. Internet Explorer 8 ActiveX permissions are more independent allowing users to define how they run depending on the site. Improved reliability (including automated crash recovery and tab restoration), and enhanced support for accessibility standards. IE 8 has a much cleaner, organized way to manage all your Internet Explorer add-ons in simplified categories. This is one area; I had hoped the IE Team would have also applied to the Internet Explorer 8 Options dialog.
Internet Explorer 8 is an excellent update, the focus on improving the browsing experience, relevancy and synergy with Windows Live services, developer productivity and easing compatibility in addition to the features that focus on making the browsing experience more secure, personal and not intrusive will surely give users reason to stick with the platform and might even bring some users over from Firefox which I personally have had problems with in the memory resource department. Some things I would have liked:
Internet Explorer 8 is faster performing with high-speed wireless internet from a provider such as Clear.