Microsoft Internet Explorer 8 Shows Great Improvement, but It's Already a Step Behind Rivals

Review: eWEEK Labs' tests of Microsoft Internet Explorer 8 show that the browser has made great strides over IE 7 in terms of usability, security and stability. But the browser landscape has changed significantly in a very short time--including Google's entry into the fray--and IE 8 is already a step behind competition including Chrome, Apple Safari, Mozilla Firefox and Opera.

Microsoft Internet Explorer 8 is a big improvement over previous versions of the Web browser. It's a must-upgrade for any current IE user--with improved usability, security and stability--but it likely won't entice users of competing browsers.

Based on tests of the final IE 8 code, along with previous tests of release candidate and late-beta versions of the code, eWEEK Labs found IE 8 to be greatly improved over IE 7 (which was itself a big improvement over IE 6). Internet Explorer 8 includes an enhanced user interface, tougher security features and better standards support than its predecessors.

However, while IE 8 is a worthwhile upgrade for current IE users, it's doubtful that it will convince users of Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Apple Safari or Opera to make the switch to IE 8. Since the first IE 8 betas were released, the Web browser landscape has changed dramatically, with all of IE's competitors releasing new versions and, in the case of Google Chrome, a brand-new major competitor entering the field.

In fact, while IE 8 is in all ways a current-generation Web browser, it is already falling behind its competitors, which tend to be upgraded more aggressively and frequently. Still, whether you use IE as your main browser or simply switch to it on occasion from another browser, you should definitely consider upgrading to IE 8.

Several interface enhancements greatly improve the usability of IE 8.

For example, tab management overall has been nicely polished. When opening a new blank tab in IE 8, users are presented with multiple options for Web surfing, including a list of recently closed tabs, or the options of starting an InPrivate browsing session or accessing new IE 8 accelerators. This is a nice improvement over the blank tabs in IE 7, although some will prefer the speed-dial-styled options found in Opera, Google Chrome and the Apple Safari 4 beta.

One very good tab management feature unique to IE 8 is its ability to color-code tabs launched from the same site. I found this to be a very helpful during browser sessions in which I've opened many tabs from each of a variety of different Websites. The color-coding made it very easy to identify groups of tabs.

Also compelling are IE 8's new accelerators. Accelerators are a form of plug-in or extension that make it possible to access advanced functionality-such as mapping, translation and search--from within the pages one is viewing without having to launch new Web pages.

For example, I liked the way I could highlight text in a page, choose a translation accelerator and see the translated text in a box within the Web page, rather than have to do something like launch Yahoo's BabelFish service in a separate browser window or tab.

Also new in IE 8 are Web Slices. Web Slices are a simple way for Websites to integrate content directly into the IE 8 browser. For example, rather than going to separate Websites to check the weather or see top headlines, users can install a Web Slice from these sites and access this information with a single click on the browser toolbar.

IE 8 also includes a built-in suggested sites widget that shows links to sites similar to the one the user is viewing.

Many of the other new interface features in Internet Explorer 8 have been included in competing browsers for some time now, but they are welcome nonetheless. These features include a smart address bar that shows sites from the browser history as you begin typing, an improved inline find-in-page capability that highlights the term being searched on within a Web page, and the offering up of suggested search terms as you begin typing in the IE 8 search field.

Internet Explorer 8 also includes a whole set of new features designed to improve browser security and add new privacy capabilities for users.