Click here to see screenshots of IE 8
And since this is a release candidate, this means that, unless there is a major problem found, this version of Internet Explorer 8 is pretty much the version that will be officially released. So, how will IE 8 stack up?
Well, if compared solely with earlier versions of Internet Explorer, IE 8 is a massive improvement that boosts the usability, security and flexibility of the Microsoft browser.
However, this won't be the case. IE 8 will instead be compared with the latest versions of Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Apple Safari and Opera. And based on these comparisons, IE 8 RC 1 only looks so-so.
A good number of the new features in IE 8 are simply Microsoft catching up by adding features that were already included in the previous versions of competing browsers. Other features that would have looked new if IE 8 had been released a year ago now look par for the course, as all competing browsers have released new versions in the last year.
Still, Internet Explorer 8 isn't without some unique features, such as the excellent tab management feature of color-coding sets of tabs that were opened from the same site. And Microsoft has done a good job of implementing features found in other browsers: For example, its InPrivate Browsing feature compares very favorably with similar features in Google Chrome and Apple Safari.
Those who have already been using Beta 2 of Internet Explorer 8 will find few new features in this release candidate. Most of the new features have been in the area of boosting performance and stability.
I did like how the already good InPrivate Browsing feature provided very detailed controls for defining how tracking content would be blocked. Most other similar private browsing features have pretty much an all-or-nothing approach. Also, the security warnings for malicious sites seem to have been made stronger.
The famous (infamous?) compatibility mode that makes it possible to switch to the older IE browsing mode for incompatible sites has also been streamlined. IE 8 now consults a list of sites known to have problems with IE 8 and automatically switches to compatibility mode when visiting these sites. Of course, it is still possible to turn on compatibility mode for any problem site not on this list.
Those wanting to try out the new release candidate can download it at http://www.microsoft.com/ie8. And stay tuned for my full review of IE 8 soon after the final official release.