What's New in IE 8?

Microsoft added new features for making Web browsing easier in the current Internet Explorer 8 (IE 8) beta. Two of the more interesting ones described in this article are capabilities that Microsoft calls "Activities" and "WebSlices."

The company also added something for Web developers in IE 8. The beta includes code views for debugging called "Developer Tools" and enhanced AJAX support.

Developer Tools
Developers do not need a separate debugging tool with IE 8 as they can use Microsoft's IE 8 "Developer Tools." The tools can be accessed by selecting the Developer Tools icon in the browser's toolbar. Developer Tools has tabs for HTML, CSS and Script. IE 8 supports CSS 2.1 and HTML 5.

The HTML tab in Developer Tools displays the internal tree representation of the Web site, including the layout of the Web page and style information associated with different elements (Figure 1). The CSS tab displays the styles associated with a Web page. To debug JScript code, the user selects the Script tab and then chooses Start Debugging.

Figure 1
Figure 1. IE 8's Developer Tools interface. (Click image to view larger version.)

AJAX Enhancements
Microsoft added enhanced support for AJAX in IE 8. The browser supports navigation within an AJAX application with IE 8's "AJAX Navigation" feature. Other AJAX enhancements include caching improvements, user connectivity event notification and cross-domain data aggregation, among others.

IE 8's "DOM Storage" feature provides caching of Web page data in a local cache. Web applications may store and load data in a local cache directly. DOM storage provides AJAX functionality beyond client/server interactions. While disconnected from the server, a client may interact with the local cache to read and store data, and when the server connection becomes available, the cache data may be synchronized with the server.

The "Connection Events" feature provides notification about user connectivity events. It indicates when a user is connected to the Web site and when he is not. This feature lets AJAX applications exit if a call is cancelled or if a call times out.

IE 8 has a cross-domain request feature, or "XDomainRequest" (XDR), which is similar to XMLHttpRequest. XDR is used to make restricted and secure cross-domain requests. It enables data aggregation across Web sites.

A cross-document messaging feature in IE 8 provides secure exchange of data between documents in different domains.

Microsoft has added capabilities to support more connections in this beta. IE 8 provides six connections per host instead of two. More connections per host reduce page-load times and provide parallelism in AJAX downloads.

IE 8's Activities are content-related activities that the user adds to the browser. Examples might be adding a map look-up capability or sending a Web page as an e-mail. Activities provide users with convenient access to online services from a Web page. For example, if you want to access the Map for an address, simply select the text and the Activities menu lists the option to lookup the map for the address in the selected text.

Some of the Activities are shown below (Figure 2).

Figure 2
Figure 2. IE 8's Activities menu. (Click image to view larger version.)

Activities are typically of two types:

  1. Lookup Activity
  2. Send Activity

A lookup Activity might be used to see the location of a college. The user selects the address of the college on a Web page and an Activity button appears, which will activate a menu. The user may select the "Map with Windows Live" option from the menu to display a map for the location.

A "Send" Activity might be used to blog a Web page. The user can select a "Blog with Windows Live Spaces" menu option to blog the Web page.

Activities may be accessed by selecting Web page content, from the Page Command bar or from the context menu for the links in a web page. Additional activities may be added from the Activities Provider Service Gallery.

IE 8's WebSlices are portions of a Web page that may be added to the toolbar for invocation. Users can receive notifications when the WebSlices content gets updated.

For example, if you want to monitor the weather at a specific location, create a WebSlice. A continuously updated reference for the location's weather will get added to the toolbar.

WebSlices are enabled in a Web page with HTML annotations. A Web page is required to support WebSlices for a user to be able to subscribe to the frequently updated content. Users may discover if a Web page supports WebSlices by using the "Discovery" button, which will appear when the pointer is placed on a Web page section that supports WebSlices.

To subscribe to the WebSlice, click on the Discovery button and the WebSlice gets added to the Favorites bar. IE 8 continuously monitors the WebSlice and notifies the user about updates by making the WebSlice bold in the Favorites bar. A user may view the updated content by selecting the WebSlice in the Favorites bar. Users can also navigate to the Web site represented by the WebSlice by clicking the "Open" button.

WebSlices are similar to Web feeds in that they provide updates to frequently changing content. However, WebSlices have some advantages over feeds in that the WebSlices get added to the Favorites bar and are displayed in the same window.

The IE 8 beta is currently available for Windows Vista, Windows XP, Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2008. Demos for users of the IE 8 beta can be accessed here.

About the Author

Deepak Vohra, a Sun-certified Java programmer and Sun-certified Web component developer, has published numerous articles in industry publications and journals. Contact Deepak at [email protected].