Microsoft has officially unveiled the final beta version of Internet Explorer 8.0 (IE8) - the latest version of its web browser.
While refusing to be drawn on how quickly the browser would move from being a "feature complete" public beta, Microsoft's product development team were keen to stress that the software demonstrated today has the same features and functions as will be available in the final version of IE8.
John Curran, Microsoft's UK director for the Windows Client Group, told PC Advisor that IE8 beta 2 is a piece of software that we should "encourage tech enthusiasts" to try for themselves. He acknowledged that the "feature complete" software is not yet ready for widestream consumer adoption, however.
Indeed, during our hour-long demonstration of IE8 beta 2, the odd glitch crept in. On the whole, though, we were shown some interesting new features, including the ability to keep on browsing even if one IE8 browser window crashes. The feature is known as 'loosely-coupled IE'.
Today's demonstration used as an example a YouTube video clip continuing to play even while another IE8 web page had stopped working. An error message stating 'Internet Explorer has stopped working. Please restart your browser' was displayed - the same message you get in existing versions of the browser.
However, a new colourcoded, tabbed browsing experience means that if a page or group of pages crashes, one or all of them can be instantly reinstated, with the entire linked page group becoming active again. This will enable users to quickly get back to where they were and to follow the same links - a timesaving over having to search through the browser history to dig out recently visited pages.
In common with the latest version of Mozilla Firefox, partial web addresses and keywords can be entered into the main address bar and IE8 will work out what's required and offer suggestions of pages it believes the user may be after. These can be autocomplete entries but can also be based on files kept elsewhere on the PC, not just in the browser history.
Once a page has been brought up, address details can be highlighted and a map of the location embedded in to the current page. Curran says that this feature means IE8 users will have a more efficient browsing experience compared with performing the same task in Firefox and using Google Maps to locate an address.
Visual search will be supported in IE8 from the search bar menu on the top right. Here, users can tab through different dedicated and "vertical" search engines - such as the internal search engines in the New York Times, eBay UK and Amazon websites - and view detail information without having to click on each individual search result.
Microsoft has officially unveiled the final beta version of Internet Explorer 8.0 – the latest version of its web browser
The example we were shown was of an Amazon listing for an obscure band, with album art and user ratings for each record. In this way, we were able to select the most recommended album from the band's discography.
Another feature to aid navigational efficiency is the Accelerator. This is an arrow icon that pops up above a listing and offers to take the user straight to the actual web page. It operates without the need for a specific link to be encoded.
A discreet Safety button on the new IE8 menu bar will allow access to a range of security settings and customisation options. These include the InPrivate browser where users can have an isolated web session without others being privy to what they view and how long they spend looking at specific content. Using, the IP address and ISP of the user is noted, as are details about what the user views and where their web surfing takes them. InPrivate Browsing prevents this and also highlights who and what could usually monitor such details - for example, an insurance company when you visit a health advice site.
In another attempt at 'trustworthy browsing', Microsoft has also beefed up its anti-phishing features, adding a link neutraliser feature to nullify the effects of any malware infected web link a user may inadvertently click on.
This means the user can continue to use the web pages they routinely visit - online banking sites being the prime example - but need not worry about having been tricked into clicking on a spoof web link that then records their personal information as they enter it into a web form. The feature uses cross-site scripting to ensure the legitimacy of web links.
Internet Explorer 8 has no firm launch date, but Microsoft spokespeople told us today that the software as it stands is now all-but ready and requires only some tuning and polishing. Curran told us that some elements of IE8 have been shown to be up to 400% faster than in IE7. He also says IE8 will be more robust.
Internet Explorer is the world's most popular web browser and is installed on more PCs worldwide than any other.
IE8 works with Windows XP service packs 2 and 3 as well as Server 2000 and Windows Vista and Vista SP1. It is not currently available for the Mac except through Parallels or Boot Camp. Annoucements about updates to the mobile version of Internet Explorer will be made in due course.