If you subscribe to our WinInfo email newsletter, then you've probably read stories by Paul Thurrott that discuss how Microsoft will handle improvements to Internet Explorer (IE) in the future. If you don't subscribe to the newsletter and want to, then visit the home page below, where you'll find a link to the subscription form.
As you know, it's been quite some time since Microsoft released a new version of the browser. Meanwhile, other browsers, such as Opera Software's Opera and Mozilla Firefox, have added considerable new features and functionality. But Microsoft has decided that it will introduce future IE improvements via service packs--it won't offer newer versions of the Web browser as standalone software because the company considers IE an integral part of the OS.
The recent Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) offers improvements to the underlying security of the OS and various components, including IE. Microsoft isn't planning to offer similar improvements to Windows 2000 and earlier OSs.
Many of you can't upgrade to XP yet for a variety of reasons, but in the meantime, you still want to improve overall system security. You can gain some of XP SP2's improvements by using third-party products. In at least one case--Windows Firewall--third-party products are typically superior. Because Windows Firewall allows all outbound connections without any means to control them, it's probably a wise idea to use a third-party firewall on systems on which you require precise control over network traffic.
To improve the IE security on Windows 2000 and previous OSs, three options immediately come to mind, although there are probably others. One option lets you keep using IE as your primary browser; the other two options recommend that you use another browser as your primary browser and use IE only when you have to for whatever reason. I describe the options below in no particular order.
One option is to add PivX's Qwik-Fix Pro to your systems to help you modify IE zones to lock down the browser and prevent malware from exploiting the system. Another option is to purchase a browser such as Winferno Software's Secure IE 2004, which is an IE replacement that offers better security than IE versions prior to XP SP2's. The third option is to use a free third-party browser such as Mozilla Firefox or Opera Software's Opera, both of which offer functionality similar to that found in IE under XP SP2.
Qwik-Fix Pro and Secure IE 2004 cost money, which of course is reasonable to expect. Opera is available for free if you're willing to view banner advertising while you use it; if you buy it, you can use it ad-free. Firefox is open source and as such is available for free and without banner advertising.