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Playing Catch-up - Review of Microsoft Internet Explorer 8

written by: •edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 1/22/2010
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This review grades Microsoft’s latest browser Internet Explorer 8. With a substantial loss in market share over the past two years, will IE 8 do anything to help Microsoft regain lost market share, or will the current trend continue?

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    Overview and Features

    With each release of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer since its inception, people took notice and Microsoft put considerable effort into advertising the new release…. This wasn’t the case with Internet Explorer 8 (IE 8) as it was released with little fanfare.

    The first thing I remember hearing about IE 8 was an email sent to me at my company saying that I needed to review settings on our website urgently to ensure compatibility with IE 8 when it was to be released later that year. Since it was a simple form letter, I wonder just how many thousands of IT professionals received such a message. Not a good sign when the largest software developer in the world needs to send out emails asking you to add code to your site to ensure compatibility with their latest release.

    Below are some of the major features introduced in IE 8:

    • Accelerators – allows for in page tasks such as looking up directions without leaving the page you are on.
    • Search Improvements – including search suggestions, “find on page” and address bar improvements.
    • Web slices – you can now subscribe to small sections of web sites that update content frequently such as stock quotes, sports scores or email.
    • SmartScreen – will display a warning if you encounter a site that may have malicious content on it.

    Additional information can be found in my article titled IE8 Under the Hood: Changes from Internet Explorer 7 to 8.

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    Installation and Usage

    Figure 1 Installation is pretty straightforward as IE 8 can be installed as an automatic update or as a separate download. Usage is pretty much the same as previous IE versions. IE 8 still uses tabs introduced in IE 7, but will now color the tabs according to which tab is considered the “parent”.

    Other new features in IE 8 such as Accelerators do save a little bit of time, but it’s a bit of a letdown that this is one of the major new features. For example, when you highlight an address, the Accelerator button will display. When you click on it, you are presented with your Accelerators – in this case I’d highlight the “Map with Live Search” option and a small callout will open showing the location (Figure 1). It’s a neat idea, but I’m not sure how practical it is as a two-block view of the address doesn’t really help if you don’t know where you are going. You’d still need to go to Bing or Google Maps to view a larger area of the map or get directions.

    The SmartScreen feature is a welcome addition showing a warning message if you access a known malicious site (Figure 2).

    Figure 2 Compatibility is a bit spotty. Most sites by now have made the modifications necessary to fully support IE 8, but in some cases, I’ve experienced IE 8 “hanging” on some sites. Using the new compatibility button will generally solve the issue, but the last thing I want to do is to have to experience a browsing issue and then press a compatibility button… why can’t IE 8 do this automatically for all sites?

    Speed seems to have taken a step back from IE 7. IE 8 isn’t much slower than IE 7, but when other browsers like Chrome and Firefox keep getting faster, IE 8 is like a slug and is pretty hard to go back to after using one of the faster browsers.

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    Pricing, and Overall Score

    Rating Average

    In some ways, Internet Explorer 8 feels like a step back. Moving from IE 6 to IE 7 was a pretty substantial leap – adding tabs, search and URL bar improvements – it felt like a true modern browser. IE 8 feels like it’s trying to play catch up to Google Chrome and Firefox, but to me it’s a distant 3rd in terms of performance and compatibility. I like to think of IE 7 as Microsoft’s “Windows XP” – stable, functional, long lasting. IE 8 is Vista – it has compatibility issues and is slow without adding much new in terms of functionality. Here’s hoping IE 9 turns things around and it's more like Windows 7!

    Internet Explorer is free – available directly from Microsoft (here).