Most of the reports out yesterday about the release of Internet Explorer 8Beta 2 focused on its so-calledInPrivate Browsing, which leaves no trace of the Web sites you visit and protects anonymity. And while that's certainly useful, developers are likely to be more interested in its improvements in DOM and HTML 4.01 cross-browser inconsistencies, new Ajax features and news that IE8 passes the Acid2 test for accurate browser rendering.
Microsoft on Wednesday made available for download the latest IE 8 beta, which it says includes fixes to "the get/set/remove Attribute,default attributes, Attribute object and the <Q> tag." The company also claims IE8 will fully support CSS 2.1 upon general release, allowing Web developers and designers to "write their pages once and have them more easily render properly across different browsers." Applications written with Ajax techniques can now "update the browser back and forward navigation stack and address bar" from within their application, and the features work correctly, Microsoft claims.
For the IT department, Microsoft says that IE 8 will be easier to deploy and manage. So-called slipstream installation allows the browser to be installed as part of Vista. That kind of language makes me think "Here we go again." Because if it's installed this way, it cannot beuninstalled by users, "thereby improving desktop consistency and manageability," and perhaps helping build Microsoft's browser dominance? Oh wait, this only applies to Vista.Never mind . Microsoft has also added more than 100 new group policy settings and cleaned up the user interface of the IE Administration Kit (IEAK), simplifying and making more powerful the configuration deployment settings. For now, IEAK enhancements are English only. More languages will be added at release.
From a usability perspective, Microsoft's next browser will include Firefox 3 catch-up features such as the Smart Address Bar, which matches not just URLs as you type but also titles and history data; a Find On Page feature that doesn't obscure parts of the page you're searching (finally); highlighting of search terms on the page resulting from search; and a results counter, which I suppose might be useful for ranking search results (these latter three features were introduced in beta 1). IE 8 also will let you reopen your most recent browsing session, aFirefox feature I have found useful following the occasional crash. IE 8 also introduces Tab Groups, which color-codes browser tabs that were opened from within another tab. Microsoft describes the feature this way: "When one tab is opened from within another, the new tab is placed next to the originating tab, and both are marked with a colored tab." I wasn't able to find a corresponding function inMozilla's browser. I think Microsoft is onto something there.
Another feature introduced with IE 8 is Web Slices. When a developer marks part of a page as a Web Slice, it gives visitors to that page the ability to store and monitor just that slice of information as they navigate elsewhere. Pretty neat.
There's also a slew of new security features, including an enhanced phishing filter, a new cross-site scripting filter, a compatibility view for browsing older Web sites, and crash recovery, which Microsoft says will save and automatically restore data entered on a Web form, for example, if that page or tab stops responding. Not bad.
I will leave you with one final thought. This is on the subject of the aforementioned InPrivate Browsing and the also newly introduced InPrivate Blocking, which gives users control over which third parties are allowed to store information that would help track their online movements. Call me a sceptic, but couldn't such features be designed to help give Redmond an edge over arch rival Google, which derives much of its revenue by leveraging precisely the information Microsoft aims to block?