Internet Explorer 8

Jon Honeyball casts a critical eye over the latest version of ie, and discovers if ashampoo core tuner can boost his processor power.

So Internet Explorer has trundled along to arrive at version 8. Well, not quite. It's actually now in mid-beta, which means that the PR huff-n-puff has begun in earnest, with endless Microsoft blogs telling us how "kewl" it is. I went recently to a presentation in London from the IE8 team, who had shuffled over from Redmond. First impressions are always useful - ah, so it's just like Firefox 3 then? I was a good boy and didn't say the F word too often, nor the S word (Safari), and whenever they pointed out a new feature in IE that's been in other browsers for several years, I nodded agreeably.

The reality is that IE8 is playing catch-up on a number of fronts, which isn't too surprising: the other players in this marketplace have been going for smaller and more incremental upgrades, and it seems like forever ago that IE7 came out. Actually, IE7 seems to have bypassed a lot of people's desktops, and I still see lots of examples of the horror known as IE6.x lurking on them...

Of course, the whole IE8 product has been profiled and groomed to within an inch of its life, and has been put through endless hours of usability testing. Now that's a subject that can raise some hackles. "Let's study how people work and then change things about so they can do it with less mouse clicks". I understand the sentiment, but sometimes they're just adding more layers of icing to a stupid cake, and lots of IE8's improvements fall into the category of icing on cake. For example, there's now a Suggested Sites feature that recommends sites based on the history of your browser usage.

There's some useful stuff in terms of highlight and right-click, when a big Accelerators menu can pop up and offer to do useful things for you. For example, you might want to Blog with Windows Live Spaces, or Define with Encarta, or Email with Live Mail, or Map with Live Maps, or Search with Google, or Translate with Windows Live. Fortunately, the Search with Google shows that this is an extensible list, and there's a final item, More Accelerators, that lets you load more into the list. Microsoft claims this is all cuddly and open, so you can just define your own, but let's double-check that when we get to the final version.

There's new tab functionality: for example, it can colour-code the tabs when it spots that two tabs might be related either by site or by click-open order. And it lets you close whole groups of tabs in one go, and then open them up again. Unfortunately, just as with IE7, the Tab bar sits on the same horizontal space as something that resembles a Menu bar but isn't. Well, it does menu-like things but looks completely different to the main menu of IE8 when running on XP. Of course, run on Vista and the top menu has been subsumed into one of those Office 2007-like bits of baroque design. I can't help feeling that IE8's tab functionality is going to look just great in the demoware, but won't really be able to cope with a disorganised user such as myself, whose first reaction to anything webbish is to go to open yet another tab. Any thoughts by the IE8 team that they can make me work more tidily will be met with a suitably hollow laugh.

Searching is improved too, as there's a dedicated search bar area and it does useful things such as transfer your search from one search box to another, but the real biggy is the arrival of InPrivate browsing. Again, let's not be too hormonal about this feature, because other browsers have had private mode browsing for a long time. IE8's implementation looks like a reasonable attempt, because it lets you do lots of filtering of content. However, you can't get the filtering stuff on a page that isn't InPrivate - I managed to provoke a hard stare from the team by suggesting that perhaps Microsoft just doesn't want people turning off in-page advertising in the future. In Firefox I just use the most excellent AdPlus tool, which lets me point and click to hide stuff I don't want to see - adverts, tracking URLs, nasty bits of pointless Flash and so forth, and I can have that in all my day-to-day browsing, not just in some special InPrivate mode.

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