Skip navigation

Windows 7 Feature Focus: Internet Explorer 8

Windows 7 Feature Focus
Internet Explorer 8

Windows 7 features a new and improved version of the Internet Explorer web browser called Internet Explorer 8. If you're familiar with Internet Explorer 6 in Windows XP or previous Internet Explorer versions, you might be in for a shock when you first start Internet Explorer 8: Gone is the simplicity of the Internet Explorer you know, replaced with a more complicated user interface that mimics the look and feel of the Windows Explorer shell while providing ever-larger areas of onscreen real estate for all its new features. Shown below, Internet Explorer 8 is similar to IE 7 but quite a bit busier-looking than its older predecessors.

Windows 7 Feature Focus: Internet Explorer 8
Something old, something new: Internet Explorer 8 is clearly a new Internet Explorer, but you may find it difficult to find features you were used to.

Secret: In Windows 7 only, Microsoft actually allows users to remove Internet Explorer 8 from the system, the first time it has allowed such a thing in about a decade. The reason? Antitrust regulators in Europe began questioning the bundling of IE with Windows again in 2008 and Microsoft decided to simply nip this one in the bud. To remove IE 8 from Windows 7--after first installing another browser, of course--visit Control Panel, Programs, and then Turn Windows features on or off. You'll see Internet Explorer 8 is one of the removable features.

Windows 7 Feature Focus: Internet Explorer 8
Now it's possible to remove Internet Explorer from Windows.

Here are some of the most important new features in IE 8.

Favorites Bar

the Favorites Bar is a renamed and improved version of the (reviled) Links bar from previous IE versions. This time around, the Favorites Bar is enabled by default and appears as a toolbar row above the tabs bar and Command bar, and below the Address bar. The Favorites bar works like the Bookmarks toolbar in Firefox: It's essentially a secondary (but more visual) place to store Favorites and RSS feeds. But it's also the primary interface for Web Slices (see below).

Windows 7 Feature Focus: Internet Explorer 8
The Favorites Bar is another place to store Favorites, but it does so much more than that.

So why have a second place for Favorites? One obvious reason is to give more prominence to certain favorites, like those you may need to access most frequently. Just click the new Add to Favorites Bar button at the left of the Favorites Bar and the currently loaded page will be added to the Favorites bar as a Favorite. (Favorites Bar items are also available in the main Favorites list under a folder called Favorites Bar.)

But the Favorites Bar really comes into its own when you use it with RSS feeds and Web Slices.

Visual Web Search

In older versions of Internet Explorer, Microsoft built very basic web search features into the address bar, as documented earlier in this chapter; but the company has been busy advancing the state of the art in web search in other products released since Internet Explorer 6, including a variety of MSN and Windows Live toolbars, its MSN Search and Windows Live Search services, and its index-based Windows Search technologies, which are included in Windows 7. In Internet Explorer 8, Microsoft progressed integrated web search to a new high. It?s pretty obvious, too: A Search box sits prominently in the top-right corner of the browser window, to the right of the address bar and Refresh and Stop buttons. What?s not obvious is how powerful this feature is and how easily it can be configured to your needs.

With supported search engines--including Google, Live Search, and several others--you can actually receive visual search results right in a search box drop-down. Obviously, this makes more sense for some queries than others, and with some search providers more than others. If you are looking for a specific product, for example, you might configure the search box to use as the provider. As you type in the name of the product--like xbox 360--a list of Xbox 360-related products appears in the drop-down, complete with images, as shown below. It's nice (and useful) effect.

Windows 7 Feature Focus: Internet Explorer 8
Would you like graphics with that search? Of course you would.

The search box also lets you switch search providers on the fly, and it includes matches from your Favorites and History in the bottom part of the search results drop-down box. And thanks to deep integration with search providers, search terms from search engines auto-populate the search box. So if you manually navigate to Google and search for something, that search term will appear in IE's search box too. Then you can run the same search on Yahoo! Search or any other installed provider. Cool!

InPrivate Browsing

Internet Explorer 8 can optionally run in a new InPrivate Browsing mode that effectively hides your tracks as you travel around to the more nefarious parts of the web or, what the heck, secretly shop for a wife's birthday present online. (That is why you need this feature, right?)

More specifically, InPrivate Browsing turns off IE's ability to locally store or retain browser history, temporary Internet files, form data, cookies and usernames and passwords. It does allow you to download file and add sites to your Favorites. By default, IE add-ons like toolbars are disabled in InPrivate Browsing mode, but you can change that from Internet Settings if desired.

You can start browsing in this mode in a few different ways, but the most obvious are to choose InPrivate Browsing from IE 8's Safety menu or to select Open an InPrivate Browsing window from the new tab page. In either case, a new browser window will appear with a new dark blue-gray InPrivate badge to the left of the Address bar.

Windows 7 Feature Focus: Internet Explorer 8
What happens InPrivate stays InPrivate.

To end an InPrivate session, simply close the browser window.

A related feature, InPrivate Filtering, is a first step in addressing the way in which many web sites share data with each other. Consider a mainstream web site like, for "The Wall Street Journal." This site is certainly reputable, but it utilizes advertising services that work across multiple non-WSJ web sites. Once these services have collected information about you on, they can track you across other sites that utilize the same services. This is usually innocuous, but it's possible that a malicious site could take advantage of this capability and deliver dangerous content via other sites.

InPrivate Filtering provides basic protection against this potential kind of attack by preventing, by default, over 10 cross-site calls. It's not enabled by default, however, but once you enable it you have decent control over how it works. For example, you could lower the threshold for cross-site content (down to a minimum of 3), choose to allow or block specific sites, and so on. It's interesting to look at just to see what the sites you visit are up to. You might be surprised.

To enable InPrivate Filtering, open the Safety command bar menu and select InPrivate Filtering.

Web Slices

Internet Explorer 8 includes a new feature called Web Slices that is similar to RSS but proprietary and designed to provide "at a glance" access to web-based information through the Favorites Bar.

Web Slices are literally small pieces, or slices, of Web pages, and they need to be explicitly created by web site owners. These slices provide a way for readers to peer into a specific part of a site--say, a list of headlines from a news site-or a bit of information in compact form (as with a traffic widget). As with the RSS feed list noted above, Web slices are cool because they provide quick, at-a-glance look at information that is important to you, and they do so without requiring you to open a new tab or otherwise navigate away from the page you're currently viewing. Also, unlike RSS feed lists, Web slices can be quite graphical.

As with RSS feeds, Web Slices announce themselves by lighting up the Feeds command bar button. When a Web Slice is found on a page, the button will turn green, and when you click this button, you're provided with a pop-up window that lets you add the Slice to your Favorites Bar.

Windows 7 Feature Focus: Internet Explorer 8
Web Slices announce themselves much like RSS Feeds, but they will live in your Favorites Bar.

Web slices work best with certain types of information, such as email inboxes, weather reports, traffic updates, sports scores, auction items, and the like. These are exactly the types of things that people would need to check throughout the day, but with a typical browser, that would entail manually navigating to a specific site. With Web slices, you can simply add links to these bits of info directly to the Favorites bar, so they're always available. And when you click on a Web slice, you don't navigate to a new page. Instead, a small pop-up appears with the desired info.

Windows 7 Feature Focus: Internet Explorer 8
Web Slices don't require you to navigate away from the current page: Just click the slice, view the information, and go back to what you were doing.

At the time of this writing, third party support for Web slices is on the light side, but some of the Microsoft slices--like Live Search Weather and Live Search Traffic, are quite good. But some are horrible: The "Hotmail Service" web slice actually throws up a small advertisement too. Yuck.

You can check out Microsoft's collection of Web Slices on the IE Add-ons web site.


Accelerators are a new IE 8 feature that address the need that arises after you've found something of interest on a web page: Often you want to copy that information and then paste it into another web site so you can perform some action, like look up an address on Yahoo! Maps, search for the term with Google, or email it to another person. Accelerators literally accelerate this process by providing a pop-up menu of choices that appears when you highlight text or a graphic in IE 8, and each of these choices is related to a web service of some kind.

Secret: Accelerators were originally called Activities. And while Accelerators are indeed new to IE 8, this isn't the first time Microsoft tried to add this functionality to its browser. Several years ago, Microsoft developed a UI feature called Smart Tags that it planned to incorporate in Office XP and Internet Explorer 6, which shipped as part of Windows XP. Smart Tags were added to Office XP as planned and they still exist today in subsequent versions of that product. But the company's plans to include Smart Tags in IE 6 were scuttled after web developers and users complained long and hard about the feature, which many saw as anti-competitive and intrusive. So IE 6 shipped without Smart Tags and the feature, presumably, was dropped for good.

Nope. Smart Tags are back, baby. Only this time they're called Accelerators and to prove their not exclusionary or anti-competitive, Microsoft is even stocking IE 8 with a number of Tags, er, Accelerators that are made by its competitors. See, they're completely different!

Accelerators, provide contextual menus on Web pages that can provide additional information via web services that will lead readers to new locations. The contents of these contextual menus are determined by what's selected on the page and which Accelerators are available in the user's browser. Put another way, the functionality is not provided by the underlying web site at all. It is instead provided by the browser via this new feature.

On one level, Accelerators are interesting and useful, as we'll see in a moment. However, they also allow users to completely bypass whatever facilities the web site itself has provided. So, for example, you might use the IE 8 Accelerators feature to find a Yahoo! Map for a selected address on a web page. But that page may supply its own map, one that you have now chosen to bypass.

OK, so let's see how this feature works. If you select a word or any other text in a web page, you'll see a small blue Smart Tag appear.

Windows 7 Feature Focus: Internet Explorer 8
Accelerators pop-up when you select something in a web page.

Click this tag and a menu will appear, loaded with Accelerators that may (or may not) apply to the selected text. What you see will, of course, depend on what's selected (that is, it is contextual) and on which Accelerators are loaded in your browser.

Windows 7 Feature Focus: Internet Explorer 8
Via this unique IE 8 feature, you can do things with selected objects in the browser.

By default, IE 8 ships with several Accelerators, including Define with Encarta, Map with Live Maps, and Translate with Windows Live. But you can also visit a web page to add new Accelerators from Microsoft and companies like eBay, Facebook, and, yes, Yahoo!. The process of adding Accelerators is much like that of adding search providers.

So what might one do with Accelerators? You can highlight an individual word and get a definition. You could select a full address and get a map. You could highlight a word in a foreign language and get a translation. By design, most Accelerators trigger a small pop-up window, but many also provide a link so you can load the information in a separate window or tab.

Windows 7 Feature Focus: Internet Explorer 8
Web Slices let you add functionality to a web page.

You can also use Accelerators to send information from a web page to another location, triggering a Google search, perhaps, or blogging about the selected text in Windows Live Spaces.

Unlike with Web slices, however, there are already a number of excellent third-party Accelerators available. IE 8 ships with several pre-installed, including four Microsoft entries--Blog with Windows Live, E-mail with Windows Live, Map with Live Search, and Translate with Live Search--but you can easily access to an excellent and huge collection of third party Accelerators, including those related to visual search (Amazon, Google, eBay, New York Times, and many others), mapping (Yahoo!,, people (Facebook), travel (TripAdvisor, National Geographic), weather (, and many other categories. There's a lot there.

You can discover more Accelerators on the Internet Explorer Add-ons site.

But wait, there's more...

There's more to learn about Internet Explorer 8, but you'll have to check out Windows 7 Secrets for the rest: There's an entire chapter devoted to browsing the web with Internet Explorer 8. The book is available now from and other booksellers. Click here to find out more about Windows 7 Secrets.

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.