I'm glad you asked. New feature number one is "activities," which enables you to right-click selected content on a web page and bring up a list of actions to take, such as:
- Add to Digg
- Blog with Windows Live Spaces
- Define with Dictionary.com
- Lookup news with MSNBC
- Map with Live Maps
- Search with Live Search
- Share on Facebook
- Translate with Windows Live
In many cases, you can choose alternative activity providers. For example, you can use eBay or StumbleUpon for Find, Yahoo! Local Maps for Map, and so on.
IE8 replaces IE7's Links bar with the Favorites Bar for even faster access to your favorite websites. WebSlices offer dynamic content within a web page that you can click through for more information and subscribe to. Automatic Crash Recovery minimizes browser crashes and enables individual browser tabs to be closed and restarted. The Phishing Filter, one of IE7's best features, has now been transformed into the Safety Filter, which also blocks sites with known malware as well as phishing sites. Learn more about these features at the New Features page.
Standards-Based Rendering, at Last!
Previous versions of Internet Explorer have been notorious for ignoring W3C standards. However, by default, IE8 will work in a much more standards-compliant way than previous IE versions. Although Microsoft Watch's Joe Wilcox suspects that Microsoft's recent legal woes in Europe are as much to blame for Microsoft's decision as anything, it's a welcome sign for web designers tired of developing for both standards-based and IE browsers.
So, is it a no-brainer decision to give it a try? Not so fast. Read on.
Think Before You Install
Although lots of people are ready to give IE8 a try, it's a beta - beta 1, to be precise. So, what could go wrong? I'm glad you asked. The Release Notes for Beta 1 (aka KB949787) take eight pages to print using IE7's default Shrink to Fit setting. Clearly, the issues with this release aren't trivial. Some highlights (or lowlights, depending upon your point of view) include:
- You can't install it on prerelease versions of Windows Vista SP1 or on checked (debug) versions of Vista, Vista SP1, or Windows Server 2008
- The help file included with IE8 Beta 1 is actually the IE7 version; an actual IE8 version will be included in a later release
- If you can't open a website, use the Emulate IE7 button (remember IE8 uses a standards-based approach by default)
- To get the Activities feature to work, select text and right-click it to open the shortcut menu
- To use Windows Live Hotmail and Spaces Activities, click the Emulate IE7 button and restart the browser
- You must perform some registry edits to enable Assistive Technology programs to work correctly
- You may need to reload the Vista application compatibility update KB943302 after installing IE8 Beta 1
- Some security zone settings have changed
- High contrast (Accessibility) color scheme doesn't work with IE8 Beta 1
- Some popular programs including DriveLetterAccess, RealPlayer 11, Google Toolbar (including v5 beta), Yahoo Toolbar, HP Smart Web Printing, QuickTime, and that MaximumPC webcast favorite, Skype, aren't compatible with IE8 Beta 1
How to Try IE8 Beta 1 - Safely
As is typical for an early beta (and you can't get any earlier than Beta 1), IE8 has a lot of rough edges. Unfortunately, because IE8, like previous versions of IE, works its way through most every nook and cranny of Windows, you can't install it alongside your current version of IE - it replaces your current version. Sure, when you uninstall IE8 Beta 1, you get your previous version back, but with the limitations of IE8 Beta 1, that might not be enough.
So, how can you take IE8 Beta 1 for a test drive safely? One word: virtualization. If you have a spare Windows XP license (such as a version of Windows XP Home or Professional you're not using anymore), you can download Virtual PC 2007 free from Microsoft, install Windows XP as a virtual machine, and install IE8 Beta 1 into the virtualized operating system. You could also install a trial version of Windows Vista Enterprise (already available as a virtualized download ready to run under Virtual PC 2007) and install IE8 Beta 1 to it. If the virtual machine crashes or hiccups, no problem!