Microsoft Internet Explorer 8 review

The search box in the top right-hand corner has also been smartened up, with the option to add a variety of different search providers, or search engines from your favourite sites. Choose Ebay, for example, and thumbnail pictures appear alongside auction listings that match your search terms; or type “weather London” and Windows Live delivers a mini-forecast direct from the search box. It’s quick and clever but, once again, only worked intermittently.

Cluttered chrome

While Google is spearheading the minimalist look with the Spartan Chrome interface, Microsoft is rushing headlong in the opposite direction. Though the interface is largely unchanged from IE7, the addition of Web Clips to the Favourites Bar can leave the top of the browser window looking desperately cluttered, especially if you have several tabs open simultaneously. You can switch Toolbars on and off, but that rather defeats the object of the new features.

it_photo_6477One innovative interface tweak is the grouping of tabs: if you choose to open a link in a new tab, both the parent tab and its offspring are highlighted in the same colour. Not only does this make it easy to see which tabs are related to another, but the whole coloured group can be shut down simultaneously. A nice touch for people who want to shut down several unused tabs in one swoop.

For those who don’t want any trace of their internet history preserved, IE8 introduces the now obligatory privacy mode, dubbed InPrivate Browsing. An InPrivate logo appears in the address bar to reassure you that any site you visit won’t be logged in your history or drop cookies on your system.

Behind the scenes

There’s been a fair bit of work going on behind the scenes in Internet Explorer 8, too. The seismic shift is Microsoft’s improved adherence to web standards, meaning that site owners will no longer have to bodge their sites to work with Microsoft’s browser.

It’s a welcome and long overdue move, but it could mean that sites optimised to work for older version of IE now appear “broken” in IE8. Microsoft offers two ways around this: a simple addition to the site’s header that tells the browser to render it in IE7 mode for site owners, and a Compatibility Mode in the browser that allows users to force the old rendering engine on sites that haven’t been updated.

It’s a clumsy, but necessary evil, and means that Internet Explorer 8 can maintain support for older sites while upgrading its HTML and CSS parsing to an extent that it now passes the Acid2 standards test.

Microsoft might have a sniffy disdain for Chrome’s clean design, but it’s borrowed one of the browser’s other innovations: dedicating a separate system process to each tab. Microsoft says this will make IE8 more robust, and an automatic crash recovery system, for example, retains text typed into webmail so that users don’t have to retype lengthy messages if a tab crashes. We’ve been unable to replicate that in our tests, but we haven’t experienced any problems with the browser’s stability in the brief time we’ve had to test the final code.

Security has also been beefed up: domains are highlighted in the address bar (another Chrome steal) to help prevent phishing attacks, a cross-site scripting filter aims to prevent malware running – even from seemingly legitimate sources – and the SmartScreen Filter prevents users from entering data into potential phishing sites.

Good, but no cigar

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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