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1/26/2009
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Microsoft Internet Explorer 8 Inches Toward Release

The browser's first release candidate is available for download Monday.

The latest version of Microsoft's Web browser, Internet Explorer 8, inched closer toward release today, as Microsoft will make the software's first release candidate available for download this afternoon.

Microsoft's been putting IE8 through the paces in beta for months, and with the software now feature complete, the company's ready to push it down the homestretch. However, it's still unclear when the final version will be ready other than sometime this year before Windows 7 comes out.

The new version has few changes from IE8 Beta 2. The drop-down search bar now allows users to toggle between results without doing a new search. Microsoft has done work so that when users turn IE's private browsing mode on, toolbars and extensions get turned off so they can't collect any browsing data and send it to third parties. Additionally, Microsoft's introduced a new tag developers can add to their browser code that helps prevent a practice known as "click-jacking," where hackers hijack Web traffic by masking one link as another.

Between the beta version and the release candidate version, Microsoft relied largely on telemetry data customers can opt into when they install IE in order to figure out what it needed to tweak in the browser. Microsoft's been making increasing use of this type of data in the last few years. "The learning between Office, Windows, and IE has been great," said Mike Nash, VP of Microsoft Windows product management.

One feature that's changed significantly since Microsoft released the first beta for IE8 is what's known as Compatibility View, where the browser can temporarily take on the rendering capabilities of IE7 in order to display nonstandard Web sites or those otherwise not ready for IE8. Microsoft will force all Intranet sites into compatibility mode. It also introduced a tag so developers can tell IE8 to automatically go into compatibility mode and added a user-controlled list of sites that IE should run in compatibility mode.

Microsoft has come a long way with IE8 by pushing performance barriers, embracing Web standards, and adding a few new features. However, a few of those new features may not become commonly used on their own without a further push from Microsoft.

Developers still need to code what are known as Web slices, which could be likened to a super-bookmark, into their pages. A Web slice is a small amount of code that users can take with them after they've left a site, so that, for example, someone could monitor search results on eBay. Microsoft's reaching out to developers to make this feature more popular.

Microsoft also made a feature known as an Accelerator (essentially, the ability to perform a number of common browser-based tasks like searching or blogging from wherever a user is on the Web) part of IE8's right-click menu and part of the default view of a new tab where a Web site has yet to be opened. "It's important to make features like this more discoverable," Nash said. Videos are also up on IE's Web site to help teach users about the new features.

IE8 will be released before Windows 7 is released, but it also will be bundled with Windows 7. That bundling recently raised the ire of the European Union, which is considering forcing Microsoft to include competing browsers (along with IE8) with Windows copies. "We certainly want to make sure we understand those issues," Nash said, adding that he'd let recent press coverage of the European Union's view speak for itself.

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