Microsoft Unleashes Internet Explorer 8

Internet Explorer die-hards rejoice: the latest version of this market-dominating browser is now available. Internet Explorer 8 replaces Internet Explorer 7, which currently holds a 72.2% share of the browser market according to a recent survey from Janco Associates. IE8, as it is commonly called, has been available as a public beta for about a year but today’s release marks its full public rollout.

The most notable features with the latest version of Internet Explorer include improved security, increased standards support, and an overhauled user interface.

IE8’s enhanced security protection will warn users if they are about to download something from a known malware site. According to NSS Labs, this enhanced security beats out Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari, Google Chrome, and Opera in its ability to catch and block malware. In fact, NSS Labs found that IE8 Release Candidate 1 caught 69% of malware with its SmartScreen filtering, while Firefox 3.07 caught only 30%.

Other security features in IE8 include an InPrivate Browsing mode that does not save any browsing history trails. IE8 can also protect against certain cross-site scripting attacks, click-jacking, and the installation of malicious ActiveX controls.

 Internet Explorer 8 Accelerators

Even with these security enhancements, however, a hacker successfully hijacked a machine running the IE8 release candidate and Windows 7 beta at the third-annual Pwn2Own contest. Competitive browsers were also hacked during the contest.

Developers and standards advocates have long criticized IE for not supporting Web standards well enough. Standards support comes at the cost of compatibility, however, so this is a bit of a controversial topic. To address standards support, Microsoft is including both a legacy browsing mode as well as a standards browsing mode in IE8. Developers can add a tag to their sites to let IE know if the site should be opened in standards mode or compatibility mode. Microsoft also maintains a list of sites that are incompatible with standards mode.

IE8’s user interface now features color-coded browser tabs, the ability to recommend sites, and a new visual search feature that lets you preview suggested search results in a drop-down list. There’s also an auto-complete feature for searches and URLs and a toolbar for searching within a page (similar to what Firefox offers). New tabs in IE8 show commonly visited sites as links. What’s more, the tabs now work in isolation, so if one tab crashes, the entire browser doesn’t.

Other new features include Accelerators which reduce the need to copy something from one Web page and paste it into another. With Accelerators, you can perform actions such as translation, mapping, and search from the right-click context menu. Another new feature called Web Slices lets users create a link on their favorites bar to bring up a small portion of a website such as a condensed weather forecast, eBay auction, stock quote, or blog post. Web Slices requires work on the part of site developers, so the feature is still few and far between right now. We expect to see this feature become more prevalent in the future.

Internet Explorer 8 is a free download for people using licensed Microsoft operating systems. IE8 is available for 32-bit and 64-bit editions of Windows Vista, Windows XP, and Windows Server.

 Internet Explorer 8 WebSlices