IE7 gets closer to its official debut

IE7 gets closer to its official debut

Summary: The browser wars are back. Microsoft has released another public beta of Internet Explorer 7. Beta 3 for Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 has a few new features and is as polished as most final releases. Here are the details.

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TOPICS: Windows
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They’re not making beta software like they used to.

Today, Microsoft released Beta 3 of Internet Explorer 7 for Windows XP (Service Pack 2 required), Windows XP Professional x64, and Windows Server 2003. (Direct download link is here.) A version based on the same core code and including the same new features is available in interim builds of Windows Vista but won’t be available for public beta testers until the RC1 candidate due later in the summer.

Microsoft has certainly picked up the pace lately. IE7 Beta 1, billed as a developer-only release and richly deserving of the many stern warnings, shipped in late July 2005. A preview of Beta 2, considerably more polished but still only for the brave or foolish, was made available for public download six months later, in late January 2006. The official Beta 2 release arrived roughly three months later, and it’s been a mere two months between Beta 2 and Beta 3.

So what’s new? Of course, bug fixes and performance improvements are at the top of the list, but those are hard to measure. Beta 2 was supposed to be feature complete, but a few new features managed to sneak into this build. Here’s the short list:

  • You can reorder open webpages by dragging tabs left or right (a tabbed-browsing feature that Firefox has had for some time). If you regularly keep a large number of pages open, that feature helps you keep from being confused. (Note: you can’t reorder pages in the Quick Tabs window.)
  • The Mail icon is back on the standard toolbar – but only if you add it by customizing the toolbar layout.
  • There are a few changes in the way IE7 handles RSS feeds. Most notable is a new Refresh All option on the shortcut menu, which is useful if you want to update a large collection of feeds.
  • You can scroll a page horizontally if you zoom in close enough to cut off the right edge of the page. In previous beta releases, you had to zoom out again to accomplish that task.
  • Most importantly, this beta includes all the security fixes included with June’s batch o’ patches, making it a must-have for anyone running the Beta 2 release.

Like the last beta, this one will only install if your copy of Windows passes through the Windows Genuine Advantage gauntlet. In fact, IE7 ups the ante on on previous WGA tests. Before, you only had to validate your computer when you downloaded a piece of code from Microsoft’s website. Now, anyone can download the software, but you have to authenticate your copy of Windows during the setup process. If your PC fails the WGA validation, IE7 won’t install.

I’ve spent the past few days looking at this build of IE7 and can recommend it enthusiastically. In fact, when I fired up a copy of IE6, it felt practically primitive in comparison. Even Firefox 1.5 feels a little rough and unpolished next to IE7. These days, I’m using IE about 80% of the time and Firefox the other 20%. A year ago, those numbers were reversed. Tabbed browsing is better, IE7 has an impressive set of security features, and it works well with most websites. It still fails, though, when lazy web designers code their pages to sniff out specific browser versions. It’s also a problem with some secure websites (including Wells Fargo) that block users running IE7 because the new browser hasn’t been properly certified.

When I reviewed the last two beta releases of IE7 back in April, I pointed to two areas where Firefox has an indisputable edge over IE: its thriving developer community has turned out thousands of extensions, and it has a much more polished set of tools for managing credentials for logging on to password-protected websites. But extensions come with a price in stability, and the superb RoboForm add-in for IE (also available as a Firefox extension) handles passwords perfectly.

Oh, and about that “beta” label… Normally, you’d be well advised to think twice about installing beta code. But this release is different. The IE7 development team is justifiably proud of its accomplishments so far. When Beta 2 was released, the IE7 blog included this pitch:

We believe that IE7 - even at this beta stage - is a significant improvement and we want as many people as possible to try it and use it. IE7 is feature complete and has been through significant compatibility and reliability testing. People (especially technology enthusiasts) will have a good experience with it.

Beta 3 is better. And if you’re not happy, hey, the uninstall works really well.

What's next? One or more release candidates, followed by a final release around the time Windows Vista is ready to ship. Coincidentally, that's also when Firefox 2 is scheduled to be complete, which means things really will heat up in the fall.

Next week, I’ll look in more detail at the security features in IE7, including its anti-phishing filter. Stay tuned.

Topic: Windows

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37 comments
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  • Non-tabbing, non-RSS changes.

    Given that I intend to turn off tabbed browsing and RSS on installation, are there any changes I would consider substantial improvements over IE 6?

    Tabbed browsing and RSS take so much attention that the rest of the changes appear to be overlooked.

    I also reduce the buttons at the top of the screen to a single line (including address) by removing everything not essential. Are there any icons I should let live this time because of improved functionality?


    By the way, the hundreds of thousands of free and low cost third-party add-ons for IE overwhelm the number available for FireFox. You shouldn't ignore software just because it's produced by a community.
    Anton Philidor
    • Improved URL parser

      That's probably the biggest one.

      And "hundreds of thousands" of IE add-ons? Where are they? Seriously, are they gathered up anywhere?

      Btw, the MS product manager I interviewed for this story freely admitted that the Firefox community has done a much better job of building a third-party development platform and encouraging people to build extensions. They say they plan to work on that for the next version of IE.
      Ed Bott
      • Finding IE add-ons

        Go to softpedia.com, advanced search (so that you can mark searching within the description) and look for "internet explorer".

        Just about any specific function you decide you want will be available, probably from many sources, not all of them on softpedia.

        The "hundreds of thousands" guess is my impression from finding many alternatives when I've looked for software.

        The product manager you interviewed may have a different idea from mine of what constitutes an add-on, including how they are written. Or maybe he hasn't investigated in the same way I have.
        Anton Philidor
        • 8,429

          When I did what you saiud (using "Internet Exlorer" in quotes as the search string) I got 8,429 results. Of course, 2 of 10 listings on the first page were for IE itself or a security patch from Microsoft. I also found a half-dozen copies of the same utility under different names in the first hundred listings, and some that were not IE add-ons at all but were for Windows Explorer or were stand-alone programs.

          Overall, very unimpressed by the selection, most of which appeared to be shareware at a $29+ price. And very few of which appealed to me

          By contrast, Firefox has thousands of extensions, many of which are useul and virtually all free.

          I think any reasonable observer can conclude that FF is a better choice for someone who wants a customizable browser.
          Ed Bott
          • When I was looking at FireFox...

            ... some time ago I found the collection of add-ons so limited and available for such a short period that it was unlikely that they would prove reliable.

            Though it is probably no longer possible to make the statement that FireFox cannot be customized at all, one can say confidently that customization is limited and unreliable and should be avoided.

            On the contrary, the broad range of add-ons, many tried and improved over a period of years means that IE is far more customizable than could ever have accomplished by Microsoft alone.

            The community of talented and experienced individuals which have customized IE are the model to which any other software effort can only aspire.


            See, looking at a large subject for 5 minutes can easily lead to stirring rhetorical conclusions. Which are, of course, useless.

            Mine about FireFox, yours about IE.

            The difference is, I'm sure I meant my observation about FireFox only to make a point. Were you actually serious?
            Anton Philidor
          • Anton...

            go buy some MS stock and take a nap. Sleep happy and quit you pontificating. MS pumping gets so boring.
            nomorems
          • For someone who doesn't use RSS and Tabbed Features...

            What else do you want from extensions if you don't even want to use basic functionality of a browser?
            ju1ce
          • Basic add-ons include...

            ... a popup stopper, a flash blocker and a download manager.
            To me, the basic function of a browser is to visit web pages. (Browsers can be used for other purposes, but I call that a reuse of code.)

            I use the taskbar for organizing material and obtain updated information when it's useful to me. Avoiding overload is important.
            Anton Philidor
          • A little feedback

            In your experience, Firefox is less reliable with add-ons. You can't say that for every user of firefox. Every version of Microsoft software I've seen has something that I've never used. Software is only as functional as the user who uses it. Now there may be applications where that isn't true. But I have never seen them. The add-ons to firefox are user based made and requested by users, approved by Mozilla. Every user experience is different, and not everyone is computer literate enough to understand what it takes to care for a computer system.
            NotjustanAOLNetUser
          • Agreed.

            I was arguing against certainty.

            There are more third party add-ons for IE than FireFox, and it's quite possible that at least some of the IE add-ons are better than their FireFox equivalents.

            Actually, I wouldn't draw a definite conclusion about FireFox without sufficient experience to make that observation worth attention. The same view should apply to those who look at IE from the FireFox side.
            Anton Philidor
          • Where were you looking?

            "so limited and available for such a short period" Where exactly were you looking? because on the official plugin area of the site there are hundreds and they don't expire. The site is https://addons.mozilla.org/. Most are under extensions.
            quantumstate
  • IE 7 STUFF

    WILL THE NEW INTERNET EXPLORER 7 BE ABLE TO LET TOOLBARS BE INSTALLED LIKE THE YAHOO TOOLBAR OR THE EBAY TOOLBAR OR LIKE AOL...OR ALL TOOLBARS IN GENERAL??PLEASE RESPOND ANYONE IF YOU HAVE AN ANSWER FOR ME??PLUS WILL IT LET YOU HAVE A COMPLETE ICON PACKAGE FOR OTHER STUFF SUCH AS PRINT PREVIEW, PRINTING, AND OTHER STUFF AS WELL...PLUS WILL IT BE ONE OF THE UPDATES ON THE MICROSOFT WINDOWS UPDATE SITE AS WELL OR IS IT A OPTIONAL THING THAT YOU CAN INSTALL IF YOU WANT TO..PLEASE LET ME KNOW ALL OF THIS IF SOMEONE HAS THE ANSWER..THANKS!!!
    MARKWAXLER
    • Yes, you can use third-party toolbars just as before.

      And please lay off the CAPS LOCK button!
      PB_z
    • My eyes!!!

      I opened your post and thought my eyes would explode.

      Please press your caps lock key 1 and only 1 time then ripe it off your keyboard and never touch it again.
      dragosani
  • Internet Explorer 7

    I downloaded Internet explorer 7 and I have Earthlink protection Center and It will not let me use the 7 version. Has anyone else had this problem and if so what did you do about it? I perfer to keep my protection from Earthlink protection center.
    brendasmith1@...
  • But will it work in FireFox with IE Tab?

    My big question is whether IE 7 will work with Firefox's wonderful extension IE Tab which lets you open websites within FireFox but using IE as the browser engine?

    Guess I'll have to try it on a back up drive. But if anybody knows, please share your insights.

    Thanks.
    dl@...
    • IE7 & IE Tabs in Firefox

      Yep, just flipped over & posted this in one with Beta 2. Haven't tried 3 yet though, but I'd assume it works just fine there too...
      CHertlein
  • Still seems like a Beta

    Well.... that's not really a fair statement since I couldn't even get it to install. Got most of the way through (after being genuinely [dis]advantaged) when it abruptly quit, said it failed, said I should immediately reboot and then check a troubleshooting web site that was equally uninformative. Even their registry checker seems to be broken.

    Bummer.

    Doug
    DrDoug018
    • IE7 install

      I had to disable my McAfee and shutdown Spysweeper, then install went OK
      don.robersone@...
      • BTDT

        I tried that. At least the McAfee part - I'm not using Spysweeper. I am using ZoneAlarm but I wouldn't think that would mess things up.

        It [i]appears[/i] to have something to do with registry access but when I run the MS registry checking app it reports no problems. The log files indicate some problem with the registry since [i]some[/i] of the errors MS says to look for are there but none of the MS solutions work.

        I might try giving them a call but that brings back a lot of bad memories .........
        DrDoug018