Internet Explorer 8 Does Well, but Not Well Enough

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Aiming to outdo beta releases of Google Chrome and Firefox, Microsoft shoots for Web browser dominance by releasing Internet Explorer 8. The IE 8 browser is a vast improvement over IE 7, but Microsoft is still playing catch-up with competing browsers.

With Microsoft’s commanding share of the Web browser market shrinking, the company had to do something, and that something turned out to be releasing Internet Explorer 8.

IE 8 may prove to be a just-in-time product—just in time to reduce interest in the beta update of rival browser Google Chrome; just in time to make people forget about the upcoming Mozilla Firefox release; and just in time to woo those considering abandoning Windows Vista.

Microsoft’s IE 8 is playing catch-up, as many of the new features have been available in competing browsers for some time. Those new features are still welcome additions and mark major improvements over IE 7.

First and foremost among IE 8’s improvements is performance. IE 8 loads pages much more quickly than IE 7 and outperforms Firefox 3.07. On the other hand, Google Chrome (Beta) seems snappier than IE 8, at least on a Vista system.

Most of the other enhancements come in the form of security, usability and stability.

On the security front, IE 8 claims to protect systems better against malicious ActiveX code and other forms of malware. In practice, IE 8 seems to rely on UAC (User Account Control) warnings to inform users of possibly malicious activity, adding to the nuisance factor associated with Vista.

IE 8 adds much-needed privacy controls, such as the ability to easily delete browsing history, cookies and temporary files. In that respect, again, Microsoft is just playing catch-up with the rest of the browser market. IE 8’s “InPrivate” browsing and filtering features add another layer of security to the product and further enhance privacy. InPrivate is a welcome addition, but not so different from some of the safety features found in Apple Safari or other browsers. While the mechanisms may be different, the goal is the same: to provide privacy and safety for those surfing the Web.

From a usability standpoint, users will find colour-coded tabs, enhanced search and improved menus. Unfortunately, IE 8 suffers from a cluttered user interface that may dull some of the gloss of those usability-orientated features.

Users will find installing the product straightforward, although it can be time-consuming—the install process seeks out and installs other updates beyond what comes with the IE 8 browser. On one hand, Microsoft is ensuring that the subject PC is as up-to-date as possible. On the other hand, the company is demonstrating how reliant IE 8 is on other Windows technologies to provide safety and reliability.

When it comes down to it, IE 8 is Microsoft’s best browser to date, yet it is still learning in some areas that competitors have mastered. Will people use IE 8? Of course. Will IE 8 stop people from using alternative browsers? Not likely. In the browser wars, Microsoft still only has one real advantage, and that is the support for ActiveX, VBScript and other proprietary technologies that Microsoft products rely on to create a “rich” browsing experience.