Microsoft Internet Explorer 8 review

With Internet Explorer stuck in an ominous decline, Microsoft needed to pull something out of the hat with IE8. The company’s answer? A new focus on “Real-world performance” – a mixture of browser speed enhancements and features that Microsoft claims will accelerate everyday surfing. But will that stem the tide of defections to rivals such as Firefox and, to a lesser extent, Safari and Chrome?

Find out how to use the best of the new features in Internet Explorer 8 here

Microsoft claims IE8 is faster than its rivals on the 25 most-popular sites in the world – but it had to run a video in super slow-mo to show that IE8 rendered the Google homepage a few hundredths of a second faster than Firefox and Chrome.

Even Microsoft spokesmen concede “the naked eye can’t see the difference” and our hands-on tests prove likewise.

But Internet Explorer’s Achilles Heel has never been the speed at which its renders sites such as Amazon or Ebay: it’s AJAX-heavy sites such as Google Docs and Zoho.com where it has struggled.

IE7 was 23 times slower than Google Chrome the last time we compared the browsers’ performance with the SunSpider Javascript benchmark. IE8 shows emphatic improvement, but it’s still a long way behind the pack.

IE8 recorded a SunSpider time of 5.53 seconds – five times slower than the Safari 4 beta and Chrome, and more than three times slower than Firefox 3.1 beta 3.

How does that translate to “real-world” performance? It took both Chrome and Firefox 3.1 only 19 seconds to open and start a 16-slide presentation in Google Docs, for instance, while Internet Explorer 8 took almost twice as long at 33 seconds. It’s a sea change from IE7, but simply not enough to claim raw-performance parity, and that’s a problem that’s only going to be accentuated when Microsoft launches its own online apps with Office 14 next year.

Clips and accelerators

it_photo_6477So what of the new features that Microsoft claims will make our day-to-day surfing more efficient? The most notable of these is Web Slices, a feature that allows you to clip parts of websites and add them to small, expandable windows in the toolbar, to keep track of things such as webmail accounts, Ebay auction items or Facebook status updates.

The Web Slice tab flashes orange when the content is updated, and you can alter the frequency of updates – although the maximum frequency of every 15 minutes might be a little slow for email accounts.

The Web Slices were, however, still very buggy during our tests. The Ebay Web Slice refused to install, while those that did work had scroll bars that dipped in and out of view, leaving us unable to skim through their content without awkwardly resizing the window. It’s a potentially useful feature, but it relies on third-party websites to make their sites Web Clip compatible and it’s horribly flawed at launch, although Microsoft insists it will improve.

Web Accelerators, on the other hand, are a definite productivity booster. Highlight a piece of text on a web page and up pops a little box that offers a variety of next steps, such as translating the text, looking it up on Wikipedia or copying text or links straight into an email.

This works particularly well for getting maps of addresses: simply highlight the postcode, choose Map with Live Search and a little thumbnail map of the destination appears, with the option to click through to a full map page. And, to Microsoft’s credit, it’s easy to swap out the company’s own services for with third-party alternatives, such as Gmail and Yahoo Maps.

Details

Software subcategory Web browser

Operating system support

Operating system Windows Vista supported? yes
Operating system Windows XP supported? yes
Operating system Linux supported? no
Operating system Mac OS X supported? no

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