There has been quite a bit of coverage of IE7 (Internet Explorer 7) in the news in recent days. Some of the coverage is lukewarm positive and some of the coverage might as well have wrote "it's from Microsoft and it's not Firefox so don't bother". While some Firefox advocates like Alex Iskold (his company AdaptiveBlue makes Firefox extensions) are declaring that the soon to be released Firefox 2.0 will capture even more market share, Open Source advocate Chris Messina has writes that "The beast (IE7) has awoken" and has caught up or even inched ahead in the browser wars.
"With Internet Explorer caught up and inching ahead, there is a critical question for Firefox advocates: do we stay the course and continue promoting Firefox as a product competing with Internet Explorer? Or, do we focus on the wider, more gradual fight to spread and improve open source principles and practices — in effect, to “win the hearts and minds” of those who employ us by day but leave us hacking at night, struggling to make a decent living at it should we choose to pursue it as our primary occupation? Personally, I prefer to chase the latter… for, after all, what really comes next, well, shall be determined by our combined intentions being realized."
Some like Marshall Kirkpatrick had multiple complaints about IE7's integrated RSS capability yet the soon-to-be-released Firefox 2.0 doesn't even have an integrated RSS reader. Kirkpatrick also complained about the lack of a built-in BitTorrent client but I have to wonder if it's really necessary when the best BitTorrent client uTorrent weighs in at around 150 kilobytes with a tiny memory footprint and doesn't even need an installer. Any .torrent file you click on in a webpage will automatically spawn uTorrent or any other BitTorrent client you might prefer.
So what does IE7 really mean to individuals and companies? If you're using IE6 as your primary browser, IE7 is a must have. For IE6 users, IE7 will offer a huge improvement in the user interface though it is highly recommended that you follow the welcome tutorial to get acquainted with it. The UI is much more streamlined and the traditional file-edit-view menu is always hidden though you can still make it show up by hitting the ALT key. You will still have compatibility with IE-only webpages but the browser is also a lot more compatible with the web standards. Everyone one of my friends I've talked to has had a very positive experience with IE7 and we can thank Firefox for forcing Microsoft to deliver IE7 on Windows XP for free.
From a security standpoint, IE7 offers a huge improvement over IE6. The two most recent zero-day exploits from last month for example only affected IE6 and not IE7 because the code auditing on IE7 was rigorous. The ActiveX footprint in IE7 is about 90% smaller than IE6 because almost all of the ActiveX controls were completely disabled by default and only the most critical ActiveX controls for things like Media Player and Adobe Flash were kept on. [Update 1:30PM - There are also new anti-phishing features that protect your average users] Even if you're running an alternative browser like Firefox, you're still going to want to get rid of IE6 by installing IE7 if you ever need to use IE for anything.
You can download IE7 here for Windows XP SP2, XP x64 edition, and Windows Server 2003. There are some people complaining that IE7 only works on XP SP2 but the reality is that no one should be running pre-SP2. There is no more support for SP1 and you're leaving yourself vulnerable to future attacks. Windows XP SP2 has been out for more than two years, it's FREE, it's a huge improvement, and it's really time for the SP2 fear mongering to stop. Get over it and install SP2 if you haven't already and then IE7 so you don't get left behind in terms of functionality and security features.
If you don't download IE7 and install it now, it will be pushed out as a critical Windows update next month. IT departments will have a way of blocking the update in Windows Group Policy so that they have time to test the new browser on all of their internal web applications, but expect that grace period to expire some time in the future.