Microsoft Releases Internet Explorer 8 Beta 2

Microsoft released its Internet Explorer 8 Beta 2 test product today, and the company spilled a lot of pixels explaining the beta's new features, with some details for Web developers. The public release of the new beta can be accessed here.

The IE8 development team seems to have spent considerable time on the browser user experience with this upgrade. The company's IE blog states that the team focused more on "flow," or how people typically use the browser, when adding features.

"We also knew that adding features has an impact only if they're 'in the flow' of how people actually use the product," the IE blog explains.

From a description of the features, most of which are not new with this release, it seems as if Microsoft did execute that plan. Many of the features have an on-the-fly nature to them. For instance, the browser will start performing a search without the user having to type the whole word or phrase. It displays an image as part of the search results.

Microsoft also partnered with other search vendors to improve the search capabilities in IE8 Beta. Those partners include "Live Search [Microsoft], Wikipedia, Yahoo!, Amazon, and more," according to a Microsoft Web page listing IE8 Beta's features. Oddly, the No. 1 search firm, Google, didn't make that short list.

Microsoft is also doing a lot with RSS feeds in the IE8 Beta, somewhat along the lines of a mashup. Users bring together feeds on the fly in the browser using "Accelerators," which can display different services on the same page. One example of an Accelerator is a map that displays by simply placing the cursor over a text address on a Web page and selecting a map feed service.

Web Splices are another RSS feed-like element in IE8 Beta. Developers can create the Web Splices on a Web site to help users track frequently updated content. A green icon lets the user know that a Web Splice is available.

Microsoft appears to be showing some interest in protecting user browsing information from third-party vendors that may track user clicks without using cookies. IE8 Beta 2 has something called "InPrivate Browsing" that will prevent browser retention of things like cookies, browsing history, user names and passwords, forms data, temporary files, and browsing history. Microsoft gives a few scenarios why this feature is important. However, others are calling it "porn mode."

IE8 Beta 2 has a "Compatibility View" function that shows up as a broken page icon near the browser's URL address bar. This feature will let users toggle between displaying a particular domain in either IE7 or IE8 modes. No browser restart happens when users toggle between the modes.

The default standard DOCTYPEs will map to "IE8 Standards mode," as Microsoft calls it, in IE8. However, things may not display properly in the browser. Developers can opt out of IE8 Standards mode by inserting code in the head or inserting a meta tag after the head with an attribute that reads "IE=EmulateIE7." This approach is Microsoft's way of giving Web developers a little more time to update their sites for IE8.

IE8 Beta 2 is currently available in English, Chinese, German and Japanese, in both 32- and 64-bit versions. It works with Windows Vista and XP, as well as Windows Server 2003 and 2008.

Check Microsoft's install advice before upgrading to IE8 Beta 2. There are some quirks to watch out for, particularly for Windows XP Service Pack 3 users. Most of the time, it's a simple upgrade without having to uninstall IE8 Beta 1 first. With XP SP3 users, it's a little different.

"The only time we encourage you to manually uninstall Internet Explorer 8 Beta 1 prior to upgrading to IE8 Beta 2 for Windows XP users is if you happened to install Windows XP SP3 after installing IE8 Beta 1," stated Microsoft's IE8 team.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is online news editor, Enterprise Group, at 1105 Media Inc.