First look - Internet Explorer 8 RC1

Yesterday Microsoft made available Internet Explorer 8 RC1 (release candidate 1), which means that as far as Microsoft is concerned, IE8 is cooked and that barring anything major, this will become the final release. So, what's the new browser like?

Yesterday Microsoft made available Internet Explorer 8 RC1 (release candidate 1), which means that as far as Microsoft is concerned, IE8 is cooked and that barring anything major, this will become the final release. So, what's the new browser like?

A new release of IE is always important because this is the browser that many millions of Windows users will be surfing the web with daily. Like it or not, by the very fact that IE is knitted into every Windows installation makes this an important event.

After what seemed like years of stagnation, Microsoft is continuing the tradition of kitting out IE8 with features that users of other browsers take for granted. That said, there are very nice features built into IE8, which include:

  • Smart Address Bar The address bar isn't now just a place to type URLs into. The Smart Address bar in IE8 tries to make sense of what the user is looking for by retrieving sites visited from the history and bookmarks. This is handy for those times when you want to find something but can't remember where you saw it.
  • Enhanced find Sometimes it's not finding the site that's difficult, but finding where on the page you need to look for the information that you are after. IE8 offers a broad range of enhanced and improved tools to help you spot the information you are after. One such example if this is result highlighting.
  • Tab groups When one tab is opened from another one, the new tab is placed next to the one from which it was opened, and both are marked with a colored tab. This is a good way to keep track of your open tabs.
  • InPrivate Along with keeping track of stuff that you might later want to refer back to, IE8 also gives you powerful tools that allow the browser to have temporary amnesia in relation to the sites you've visited by temporarily halting the writing of information to the cache and history.
  • Crash recovery If your IE locks up of crashes while you've a shed-load of tabs open, with IE8 there's a good chance that when you fire up the browser again that it will remember what what sites you had open and fire them up again. It can also reload information that you had typed into forms.

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For the security-conscious IE8 includes a number of new features:

  • SmartScreen Filter Protects against phishing threats and malicious software downloads.
  • Selective deletion of history Delete some files while keeping others on the hard disk.
  • Cross-site scripting (XSS) protection XSS attacks are increasingly common and IE8 contains countermeasures to keep you safe from many of these.
  • Click-jacking protection Site owners can place tags in the header of a page to prevent it being displayed in frames from other domains.
  • Domain highlighting Scammers sometimes go to great lengths to make the domain victims are visiting hard to spot. IE8 automatically highlights the domain in bold to make it easy to spot what site you are at.
  • Per-sit and per-user ActiveX Get better control over ActiveX controls.

IE8 also takes web standards much more seriously than other previous incarnations. However, Microsoft developers realized that this would result in some sites breaking, so also present in IE8 is a feature called Compatibility View which "downgrades" the way IE8 displays web pages, making it behave like IE7. However, IE8 isn't the leader by any means when it comes to standards and only scores 20 out of a possible 100 in the ACID 3 test. Compare this to Firefox 3.2 alpha 1 nightly build which scored 93 and the current version of Google Chrome which gets 79. Meanwhile Opera 10 alpha scores 100 on the test.

From a performance point of view it's hard to get all that excited about Internet Explorer 8. Sure, it's better than IE7, and so those using Internet Explorer will see quite a performance boost, but compared to the the other browsers out there, IE8 is still a dog.

 

So, how best to sum up IE8? Well, it's certainly a better browser than any previous version of IE, but it's still got a long way to go before it's anywhere near being the best.

Note: XP users thinking of trying out IE8 should first read this.

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