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Internet Explorer 9 Feature Focus: Download Manager

While Internet Explorer's rivals have had download managers for years, users of the Microsoft browser have had to suffer along with a more limited and less useful downloading capability. Until now, that is: With Internet Explorer 9, Microsoft is finally adding a download manager to the dominant web browser line. And while they may be late to the game, IE 9's download manager is, as you might expect, quite a bit more capable than those of its rivals.

On the surface, the IE 9 download manager works much like similar features in other browsers. When you trigger a download, the IE 9 notification bar appears, asking you if you'd like to run or save the file, much like previous IE versions. But while there are prominent Run and Save buttons (as well as Cancel), the Save button has an ancillary drop-down that lets you choose between Save, Save as, and Save and run.

IE 9 Download Manager

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If you do choose to download the file, a View downloads button will appear, giving you access to the download manager. (You can also trigger this view by clicking Tools and then Download manager or with the CTRL + J.)

IE 9 Download Manager

The download manager window provides a handy central location for viewing and tracking your downloads. Each entry in the list provides a location link, so you can jump directly to the folder in question, a Run or Open/Open with button so you can access the individual files, and a Remove ("X") button so you can remove that file from the list.

IE 9 Download Manager

Secret: If you mouse over the an item that is still downloading you can find out the transfer speed:

IE 9 Download Manager

You can also clear the entire list and access a very simple Options window that lets you set the default download location.

IE 9 Download Manager

OK, so most of that is likely familiar to you, if you've used other browsers. Where the IE 9 download manager improves on that basic design is through its integration with the IE security features, the SmartScreen Filter and a new SmartScreen download reputation service.

The SmartScreen Filter debuted in IE 8, providing users of that browser with integrated protection against electronic threats. In IE 9, the SmartScreen Filter works with the download manager, and the new download reputation service, to provide similar protections against threats from downloaded files. It checks the reputation service, scans downloads for viruses, and verifies the source of the download.

"Downloads are attack vectors," Microsoft general manager Dean Hachamovitch told me. "The question is, are you getting real stuff or are you getting malware? This is handled generically in other browsers , which leave answering these questions up to the user."

According to Hachamovitch, he talked to the guys at Microsoft behind IE's phishing filter and SmartScreen features and asked them about the best way to handle download manager security. "They told me we needed application reputation. Each time the browser goes to download a file, it should be able to query a database and ask, is this a commonly downloaded thing like iTunes? Is it signed? Who signed it? Are they OK?

"This is an early warning system for malware," Hachamovitch said. "Of the stuff that people download that has no reputation data, about 30 to 40 percent is malware. You need an early warning system."

Note: IE 9's reputation checking is running in silent mode during the beta and will be enabled (during the beta) when Microsoft feels it has enough data to make accurate download decisions. This update will not require users to download any code or update the browser explicitly.

Final thoughts

The Internet Explorer download manager was a long time coming, but Microsoft's decision to bolster this functionality with important security features was a good one. Worth the wait? Absolutely. And if you've been pining for a true download manager, IE 9 won't force you to switch browsers or download and maintain a separate add-on.

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