Microsofts slow march to regain momentum in the Web browser market continued in late January with a preview release of Beta 2 of Internet Explorer 7. The beta shows a lot of good progress, but, as weve said with almost every new IE release weve reviewed, its still playing catch-up.
The Beta 2 preview release impressed in eWEEK Labs tests. Microsoft isnt breaking any new ground with IE 7, but the features in this release are well-implemented and will be welcomed by IE users.
As previously reported, IE 7 is slated to be available for Windows Vista and Windows XP Service Pack 2. However, this current beta runs only on Windows XP SP2.
The main interface of IE 7 has seen some significant changes, with a more streamlined tool bar-oriented approach. We found this to be an intuitive and clean browser interface, but those who want to work with IEs familiar menus can choose the Classic Menu option in the Tools menu.
Tabbed browsing has been tweaked in this beta to work much the same way as with other browsers. For example, with Beta 2 of IE 7, we could save groups of tabs and control how tabs are opened and navigated to. From a tool bar item that looks something like a virtual screen tool, we could click a drop-down menu to manage our tabs.
RSS feed discovery has also been boosted in this release, with the most obvious change being that IE 7 now uses the same feed icon that other browsers and Web sites do. The page shown when viewing a feed provides more information and a Subscription button, and IE 7 also now supports Atom-based feeds.
One new feature in this beta (although one that always has been in Opera) is a zoom capability. This will be useful for people with visual disabilities or those who just want a larger view of specific Web content. This feature was easily accessible from the bottom status bar.
The privacy and security features that Microsoft has been touting for IE 7 also have seen some changes in this beta release. The Delete Browsing History button provided granular options for removing the traces of a browsing session . We could delete just passwords, just cookies or just temporary Internet files—or any combination thereof. Of course, most users will simply click the Delete All button.
IEs anti-phishing capabilities have been more effectively exposed in this release, with a menu option to easily turn off automatic site checking. As in the previous beta, the anti-phishing works by checking a central list of suspect Web sites and by looking for phishing characteristics in the site being viewed. IE 7 Beta 2 also adds support for IDNs (International Domain Names). This standard, which Opera also uses, makes it possible to identify Web sites with spoofed addresses.
We really liked that the address of a site is always displayed, even for pop-ups, making it much easier to identify potentially problematic Web sites. IE 7 Beta 2 now includes a No Add-Ons mode—similar to the safe modes in Firefox, Mozilla and Opera—that allows users to troubleshoot in the browser without loading plug-ins or other add-ons.
We were somewhat amused by the new custom settings feature in IE. In the previous beta, users could choose among a set list of search servers, with all the usual suspects listed. In Beta 2, we were directed instead to a Web page listing search engines that could be added to the browser search. Conspicuously absent from this list at the time of our testing was Google. Microsoft officials have said that this page will be updated in the future, and were guessing Google will make an appearance.
IE 7 Beta 2 demonstrates that Microsoft is continuing to slowly address standards issues. Beta 2 builds upon the CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) improvements made in Beta 1 of IE 7, although IE is still very far from having what is generally considered good standards compliance.
Microsofts Internet Explorer 6.x For users of older Microsoft Windows systems, this will be the only choice as far as a Microsoft Web browser goes (www.microsoft.com/ie)
Mozilla Foundations Firefox Firefox has become the top choice as an alternative to IE (www.mozilla.com)
Opera Softwares Opera Tends to lead the cutting edge when it comes to new browser features (www.opera.com)
SeaMonkey Councils SeaMonkey suite Developed by a volunteer group within the Mozilla Foundation, SeaMonkey is the Mozilla Internet suite reborn (www.mozilla.org/projects/seamonkey)
Labs Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at email@example.com.