Microsoft has released the third and final beta for its new Internet Explorer 7, due to be released in a final version later this year.
Changes from beta 2, released last January, are mostly internal, with only a few new cosmetic features added. For the end user, not all Web sites will function properly using IE 7 beta 3. And note that you must be running Windows XP SP2 in order to install this beta; all older versions of Windows are now limited to Internet Explorer 6, which will not be updated further.
Internet Explorer 7 beta 3 includes all the recent Internet Explorer security patches issued through June 13, 2006.
Perhaps the most significant security enhancement is the new antiphishing component. Using heuristics, or algorithms, rather than white lists, Internet Explorer can analyse a given page and determine whether it's the real McCoy or a spoofed page. Should you land on a suspicious site, you'll see a golden bar across the top of the page. You'll have a chance to correct any errors, saving pages you know are not frauds but that may appear so within IE.
Microsoft has also raised the security bar within Internet Explorer, making the default security-zone setting medium-high. If you ever need to lower the security zone settings -- say, to install new software via download -- you'll see a golden bar across the top of the screen, reminding you that you are now surfing under less-than-secure settings. You can use a one-click menu option to change the zone settings back. And with IE 7 beta 3, Microsoft has neutered all but the most essential ActiveX Controls. If you need more, you'll be asked to activate them on a case-by-case basis. This should limit criminal-hacker attack vectors within IE 7.
More eye candy
With Beta 3, you can add the e-mail button back to the vastly simplified toolbar if you want. The address bar remains on the top and is not movable, as relocating the bar is a common ploy among spyware and adware vendors. Also, the Favorites sidebar now has three tabs: one for Favorites, one for History, and one for RSS feeds.
Continuing from beta 1 is the ability to use tabs within Internet Explorer, and beta 3 allows you to move the tabs as you can within Firefox. Microsoft has also added the ability to visually display all open tabs, but in a separate page not via mouseover as you can within Opera. Another feature borrowed from Opera is zoom. You can wheel in or wheel out on a page, which is perfect for those with less than 20/20 vision.
Internet Explorer 7 beta 3 allows you to automatically update all your RSS feeds at once. Continuing within this beta is a complete Really Simple Syndication (RSS) substructure introduced in beta 2 (note: you'll have to reboot when you install this new IE 7 beta). However, the payoff is nice. Now, whenever you subscribe to a new RSS feed, you'll no longer see a page of HTML but a fairly basic representation of all the current feeds for that page, plus any categorising the site has done regarding specific topics.
Also, Microsoft has joined with Mozilla in using the same icon from RSS, making it easy for users to switch between Firefox and IE 7.
Shrink to print
IE 7 will automatically size a page so that when it goes to your printer, you won't lose the content on the far right side of the page. The text may be smaller, but the text will be whole. You also have the ability to print only the highlighted section of a Web page.
Although MSN Search is the default search setting within IE 7, Microsoft does link out to Google and other sites, so you can quickly change that. If your default search is currently set to Google, however, no need to worry: when IE 7 imports your data from IE 6, it'll preserve your search engine preference.
Also, IE 7 will lock that preference so that installing toolbars won't automatically -- and sometimes without your permission -- change that preference.
Address bars in every window
A new feature within IE 7 adds an address bar to every pop-up window, allowing you to determine whether you want to view that content (advertising, for example). This feature is currently available in Firefox.
Another way a criminal hacker can attack Internet Explorer users is to substitute characters from one character set into another within a domain name. For example, if you set English as your native language, all URLs will display characters from the English character set. If someone decides to use a Cyrillic character in a fraudulent domain name, you'll see a warning across the screen.
Although Firefox and Opera have offered this for years, Microsoft has finally made it easy for anyone to delete their browser history and personal information with one click.
Be sure to check back for a full review once the final version of Internet Explorer 7 is released in the fall of 2006.