IE 8 Beta 2 ready for download

Mozilla's new Ubiquity add-in for Firefox doesn't really seem to go beyond what Microsoft is doing with the version of its browser due to ship in November. That's my take, but you can form your own opinion. Starting today, August 27, at 3 p.m. EST, Internet Explorer (IE) 8 Beta 2 became available for download by anyone who wants to give it a whirl.

Mozilla did its best to throw a spoiler into Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE) 8 Beta 2 launch on Wednesday. But the new Ubiquity add-in for Firefox doesn't sound all that different from what Microsoft is doing with the version of its browser due to ship in November.

That's my take, but you can form your own opinion. Starting today, August 27, at 3 p.m. EST, Internet Explorer (IE) 8 Beta 2 became available for download by anyone who wants to give it a whirl.

As expected, there are a lot of new features that were not part of IE Beta 1 which are now available in IE 8 Beta 2. InPrivate browsing ("porn mode") and InPrivate blocking are just two of the many new items that got added to the latest IE beta. Others include crash recovery (I'm installing just for that alone!), a "Diagnose Connection Problem" button, and Compatibility View (for sites that break when viewed in IE 8 -- some examples of which are on the Redmond Pie enthusiast site).

(For a list of more of what's new in Beta 2, check out my ZDNet colleague Ed Bott's IE 8 Beta 2 hands-on report.)

To me, the most interesting -- and potentially controversial -- new features are those that fall into the Microsoft-designated category of "Reach Beyond the Page." (That's the terminology Microsoft is using in its IE 8 Beta 2 Reviewers' Guide, a copy of which I had a chance to see this week.)

Here's what's on the Reach list:

* Accelerators (the feature formerly known as "Activities" in Beta 1): Technology allowing users to perform tasks like finding a definition of a word, posting a blog entry, mapping an address or posting a blog entry) available on the page they are viewing, instead of on a new page

* Web slices: Brings the user's favorite data (sports scores, weather reports, stock quotes, etc.) directly into the Favorites Bar. Changes and updates are retrieved and users are visually notified of the updated information status

* Visual search suggestions: In the Instant Search box, as users type a search term, they will receive real-time search suggestions from their chosen search provider, as well as results from the users's own Favorites and browsing history.

* Suggested sites: These are recommendations about other, related sites that might be of interest. This feature must be enabled by the user; it's not on by default.

The only one of these four categories that got an update between Betas 1 an 2 were Web slices. But it sounded from my conversation with the Softies that they were expecting a number of testers to look deeply and critically into the Visual search suggestions and suggested sites areas, as well, when putting IE 8 Beta 2 through its paces.

As Mozilla's Ubiquity announcement demonstrates, Mozilla seems to be thinking the same way as Microsoft's browser team. As another of my ZDNet colleagues, Ryan Stewart, put it: The Web's page-based model has been slowly dying. When browsing, users increasingly want to perform specific tasks that often involve mashing up Web sites/destinations/content.

I'm curious whether these new ways of discovering/promoting content will have any impact on how users search the Web. Will suggested sites or search terms make users any less likely to Google something?

And how will this new functionality impact online advertising? As Microsoft on Directions analyst Matt Rosoff noted, IE 8's InPrivate blocking feature

"An InPrivate Session will, by default, also block all third-party content from domains that have appeared more than 10 times in your history. In practice, that means a lot of ads served by ad networks could be blocked. I think that's a great step for privacy, but seems to contradict Microsoft's own promises in the advertising realm--in particular, Microsoft Advertising has pushed this idea called engagement mapping, which relies on tracking users' interaction with an advertising campaign over a few days or weeks. I'm not sure how Microsoft can square that circle."

Do you like the concepts behind Accelerators, slices, visual search suggestions and suggested sites? What about Firefox's Ubiquity? Do you see any advantages of Microsoft's approach over Mozilla's, or vice versa?

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