Review: Internet Explorer 8.0

Get robust security and improved standards compliance

Executive Summary:
Internet Explorer 8.0 (IE8) is a big step up over Internet Explorer 7.0 (IE7). But can IE8 compare to the latest versions of Mozilla Firefox, Apple's Safari, and Google Chrome?

Long before Internet Explorer (IE) 8.0's highly anticipated release, we saw a lot of media coverage—most of which touted IE 8.0 as the best version of IE yet. In a predominantly Windows-based environment, especially with online or cloud products, IE offers the peace of mind of standard integration and compatibility. But for my own use (both business and personal), I've always favored competing browsers (Mozilla Firefox and, more recently, Google Chrome). Nonetheless, I considered IE 8.0 with an open mind.

Layout and Interface
My impression of IE 8.0's layout is warm, but not hot. The top-matter—which includes the search bar, menu, tabs, and add-ons—is several layers deep, and most of the features don't seem that useful. Suggested Sites, for instance, is supposed to provide you with a list of similar sites. However, in my tests, it always produced fairly irrelevant links. IE 8.0 also has two separate search bars, one for URLs and one for Google searches, which is much less efficient than Chrome's unified search bar that automatically identifies whether the text you enter is a URL or a keyword search.

One thing I like about the interface is that IE 8.0 automatically blackens the base URL of the site you're on, so you can quickly identify the site and verify that it's legitimate. In addition, an RSS feed icon lights up if RSS feeds are available, which saves you from having to look for the orange icon yourself. Clicking the icon redirects you to the site's RSS page on that site. Another cool function is Accelerators—you choose which Accelerators you want to use (e.g., translate with Google Translator, blog with Live Writer), then simply right-click on a page to automatically translate it or create a blog on it. Figure 1 shows an example of translating a web page. Finally, each new tab in IE 8.0 provides a list of recently closed tabs, which is quite useful.

I won't dwell on performance, because IE 8.0 benchmark tests have been widely publicized. However, to sum up both the tests and my experience: IE 8.0 is faster than IE 7.0, about the same speed as Firefox 3.0, and a good bit slower than Apple's Safari 4.0 or Chrome Beta 2. Like Firefox, IE 8.0 is especially slow on machines that are running a lot of other applications or have less than 1GB of RAM.

Enterprise Security Features
The new enterprise security features are where IE 8.0 shines. InPrivate Browsing lets you surf the web without saving history or cookies. The SmartScreen feature automatically issues a warning for harmful or imposter sites; administrators can configure IE 8.0 to block these sites altogether. IE 8.0 also has Automatic Crash Recovery, which includes two significant changes from IE 7.0. First, if a tab crashes, only that tab crashes. Second, when you reload your browser or tab, IE 8.0 automatically redirects you to the site that crashed. Finally, the browser has two additional features that specifically prevent hacker invasion: Clickjack Prevention, which detects and disables clickjacking, and the Cross Site Scripting (XSS) Filter, which blocks XSS requests.

Another IE 8.0 feature that other browsers lack is management through Group Policy. For more information about IE 8.0 Group Policy support, go to Microsoft’s Group Policy and Internet Explorer 8 page.

Standards Compliance
One of the big deals about IE 8.0 is that it's more standards-compliant than IE 7.0. As any developer knows, developing for IE can be a nightmare and requires far more work than for any other browser. So, how does IE 8.0 fare in tests that measure compliance? IE 8.0 passes the Acid2 test but fails Acid3. Microsoft has stated that the company purposely didn't support Acid3 in IE 8.0 because Acid3 isn't yet an industry standard; however, it's probably good practice to have another browser handy in case you encounter a web page that doesn't display correctly. IE 8.0 also offers Compatibility View, which lets you properly view a site that was developed for IE 7.0.

After trying IE 8.0 for awhile, my conclusion is that it's vastly superior to IE 7.0. While I still prefer Chrome's speed and simplicity for my personal use, IE 8.0 is a very competent browser (for both enterprise and consumer use). Windows administrators will probably want their users to use IE 8.0 simply because its security is so robust. To download IE 8.0, go to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 8.0 download website.

Microsoft Internet Explorer 8.0
PROS: Greatly enhanced security features; usability and interface are improved from IE 7.0
CONS: Still behind in standards compliance; slower than Chrome and Safari
RATING: 4.5 out of 5
RECOMMENDATION: If you were using IE 7.0, switching to IE 8.0 is a no-brainer. The additional features make IE 8.0 compelling for enterprise use, but if you only want a simple and fast web browser, IE 8.0 might not be for you.
CONTACT: Microsoft •

TAGS: Windows 8
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