Software developer Microsoft has announced the release of the second beta version of its upcoming Internet Explorer 8, it has been reported.
The browser, which will include the highly-publicised inPrivate mode which allows the user to keep details of internet sessions private, is available now, although no formal release date has been set for the final product.
It has been noted that other upgrades present in the beta version include a better address bar that can predict the requested url through previous history and an improvement of the tabbed browsing function.
Technology website vnunet.com also noted that the latest release was attempting to become more standards-compliant.
It said: “Microsoft says it passes the Acid2 browser test, will include CSS 2.1 and supports W3C’s HTML 5 Draft DOM Storage standard and the Web API Working Group’s Selectors API.”
USA Today reported that the inPrivate function was designed to hide the purchase of a gift for a partner, or for “other reasons” that they “don’t want them to find out”.
The question most people will have is – how does it stack up to the best in the market – Firefox, Safari and, in some instances, Opera? Will it be faster than the painfully slow IE7, is it easier and more secure to use? There is one simple answer: Yes.
This author found that IE8 loads about three times as fast as IE7 and loads pages about twice as fast as its predecessor. The performance gains are also significant when compared to IE8.
It is obvious that Microsoft, just like Mozilla, has made huge progress to accelerate the browser engine, while the company surprisingly forgets to highlight this progress in its browser feature list. Subjectively, it appears that Firefox 3 has lost its page load time advantage.
Useful new features
First, there is finally a “Find on this Page” feature you can actually use, since it is placed in its own field below the address bar. Searching web pages for certain words or phrases is also enhanced through search result highlighting and search result count.
Just like Firefox, IE8 can also store a browsing session and reopen it when the software is restarted.
The “Smart Address Bar, which offers a neatly structured, instant search feature when you are entering a URL, is also new. Similar to the Firefox idea, the Address options are very organized, easy to read and in most cases actually useful – especially when you are looking for a certain section on a website and simply don’t know its sub-level address.
The best new feature, hands down, is Tab grouping. At least I tend to have countless tabs open and once you exceed ten or more tabs, it gets confusing and you have to start reorganizing those tabs. IE8 does that for you in a color-coded fashion. The colors themselves are a matter of taste, but as long as you are opening tabs through the context menu (right mouse click), a new tab will appear in the color of the originating website. This feature is a perfect example how simple ideas can have a huge impact.
Tabs now also come with “crash recovery”, which means that the content in a tabbed window is automatically restored and reloaded – and any information the user may have already entered on the page (such as when writing an e-mail or filling out a form) is restored.
Under the hood, there are new features you won’t see in the user interface – which, however, are milestones for Microsoft. First, the browser is much closer to common web standards than any other version before (Microsoft says it passes the Acid2 browser test), CSS 2.1 will be implemented in the final version of the browser, there are Document object model (DOM) and HTML 4.01 improvements and there is support for W3C’s HTML 5 Draft DOM Storage standard and the Web API Working Group’s Selectors API.
Useless new features
Microsoft would not be Microsoft if there wasn’t an overload of features that in fact make the browser (12.7 MB download) appear bulky. Each user may have a different opinion what these features may be, but at least in this version it seems to be Microsoft’s Web Slices and Accelerators (renamed from “Activities”). On one side, Microsoft promises to stay within general HTML guidelines and on the other the company cannot resist to create proprietary features that are not part of any standard and are not supported by any other browser. Is it just me or does this sound strange?
Both Web Slices (a way to subscribe to certain content) and Accelerators (quick access to maps, for example) are obviously a try to standardize certain features and convince web developers and other browser developers to adopt this functionality. To me, both features are nice and may be certainly useful in some cases, but will they improve your browsing experience in general? No. In some scenarios, IE8 feels too heavy. The browser interface clearly needs another workout to trim some of the fat it has gained over the years.
IE8’s new “over the shoulder privacy” features were revealed two days ago. “InPrivate” appears to be a new word under which Microsoft will combine a range of security configuration options, with the first ones being InPrivate Browsing, InPrivate Blocking and InPrivate Subscriptions. All three add another layer of flexibility and complexity, which may be welcomed by some and may confuse others.
12 additional big security improvements include per-user and per-site ActiveX rules, domain warnings and highlighting, enhancements to IE7’s phishing filter and data execution prevention:
Old Microsoft habits
The installation process of the browser remains unacceptable and one big annoyance. Even on my relatively speedy PC, the installation process took 28 minutes from beginning to end. For 17 minutes, the PC was unusable, since the PC needs to be restarted and updates need to be reconfigured.
Why is it that Firefox can be downloaded and installed on the go without the need for a restart of the PC and Microsoft takes my PC hostage for 17 minutes for a simple browser update? I may be picky here, but iE8 is not particularly convenient (and transparent) to install.
You can download IE8 Beta 2 here.
1) You might not be able to uninstall beta
Users of Windows XP who have Service Pack 3 installed may find it impossible to uninstall the new beta once the deed is done. It gets a little dicey, but here’s the deal: If you installed SP3 after installing IE8 beta 1, your beta 2 installation will become permanent. Microsoft says you’ll be able to upgrade as new versions come out, but you’ll never be able to remove any of them from your system.
There is a slightly complicated procedure you can do to avoid this: Uninstall SP3, then uninstall IE8 beta 1. Once you’ve done that, re-install SP3. At that point, you’ll be able to do a clean install of IE8 beta 2 without having the lockdown issue.
2) You might not be able to upgrade to IE8 beta 2 directly.
Users of Windows Vista who already have IE8 beta 1 will have to take several steps before getting the new beta 2. First, you’ll need to manually uninstall beta 1. Second, you have to go here and manually install a system update. Then, you can move forward with the IE8 install — though it will actually prompt you to accept a couple other system updates when you begin. Make sure you check the “Install the Latest Updates” option in the Setup Wizard.
3) You might not be able to use some of your existing programs.
IE8 beta 2 is completely incompatible with both Visual Studio .Net version 7 and Windows Live Mail. Either program will fail to operate correctly and will likely just crash once IE8 beta 2 is installed. Microsoft says there is no workaround as of yet. You also won’t be able to view on-demand movies in NetFlix, use the Google Toolbar, or use some versions of the Skype add-on.
All right… got all that? If you’re still ready to roll, you can download Internet Explorer beta 2 here. Also, be sure to check out more expanded coverage of the product and its ups and downs below.