Microsoft opened up testing of Internet Explorer 8 beta 2 on Wednesday, putting the company on track for releasing by the end of the year what will be only the second major overhaul of Microsoft's Web browser since 2001.
Internet Explorer 8 adds a plethora of security, usability, and manageability features over previous versions aimed at keeping Microsoft on top of the browser market share list ahead of surging Mozilla Firefox, and the new beta builds on those new features with several new usability and security capabilities that weren't available in the previous beta.
"If you look back 10 years ago, the Web was a very static place," Microsoft senior product manager James Pratt said in an interview, reiterating Microsoft's new policy of regular releases of new versions of Internet Explorer. "Fast-forward and we've seen this amazing change in the Web."
Security has become an important feature of Internet Explorer in the last two versions, as Microsoft had been attacked for gaps in Internet Explorer 6. The beta includes a number of new security features, including protection against cross-site scripting attacks and a phishing and malware filter called the SmartScreen filter.
Two other features, InPrivate Browsing and Blocking, allow users to cover their digital tracks when browsing by ensuring that history, cookies, and temporary files aren't stored on the computer and that third parties can’t track online behavior. The features have caused some controversy as "porn mode" because they eliminate traces of browsing history, but they're also useful for avoiding behavioral tracking by third-party Web sites that users don't know or want tracking them. Companies can turn InPrivate modes on or off to prevent unauthorized browsing.
If the browser crashes despite IE's new security features, Microsoft has included improved crash recovery in the new beta. If a crash is detected, the affected browser tab or tabs automatically reload, including any information that had been filled in on forms on the crashed pages. Users can even reload lost tabs or an entire browser session if accidentally closed, because IE keeps track of the most recently closed tabs.
Microsoft has also implemented better search and search-like features into Internet Explorer 8. Much as Mozilla has done by including the Awesome Bar in Firefox 3.0, Microsoft has added a Smart Address Bar that automatically completes URLs as they are typed, drawing on previously visited sites, favorites, and RSS feeds. However, Smart Address Bar lacks Firefox's ability for users to tag visited Web sites with whatever name or description they choose.