The new public release of Internet Explorer Beta 2 is, according to Microsoft, more stable and ready to be used. But is it ready to go up against Firefox?
Next year at this time, if you find yourself using and liking Internet Explorer 7, thank the volunteers at the Mozilla project. The release of Mozilla Firefox 1.0 roughly 18 months ago marked the beginning of a steady downhill slide for Internet Explorer -- the open-source browser has been taking increasingly bigger bites out of IE's market share (and mindshare) ever since. After a series of solid and reliable updates, Firefox is, by most objective measures and in nearly every category, a better browser than Internet Explorer 6.
The rise of Firefox was a wake-up call for Microsoft. The result? IE7. Click image to enlarge and to launch image gallery.
The rise of Firefox was a wake-up call for Microsoft's developers. Having Firefox as a target inspired sweeping changes for Internet Explorer, whose basic interface and core features were overdue for an overhaul. IE7 is a serious attempt to close the gap with Firefox in one long stride. With the official release of IE7 Beta 2 (for Windows XP Service Pack 2, Windows XP Professional 64-bit Edition, and Windows Server 2003), Microsoft has unveiled a browser that looks a lot more polished than the "beta" label might suggest.
The final release of IE7 won't be ready until later this year, but there's little mystery about it. The question isn't whether you'll upgrade. If you use Windows XP, how can you resist a free update to a core program, especially when that update fixes some long-standing annoyances, substantially improves your online security, and is generally easier to use than IE6?
No, the real question is, "Will you use it?" Can IE7 lure you back if you've switched to Firefox as your default browser? Will you trust its tighter security settings enough to recommend it to friends and family? In an environment where anyone, anytime can switch browser allegiances with a five-minute download and a few quick clicks, is there really such a thing as loyalty to a browser?
If you've tried one of the Beta 2 Preview editions, which were aimed exclusively at Web developers, you've already got a pretty good idea of what this release is all about. The first preview release was back in early February, and a second preview was delivered in late March at the Mix06 conference.
You have to look pretty closely to see the cosmetic differences: Icons for the Favorites Center have changed a bit since February, and the choices on the Tools menu have been rearranged slightly, but otherwise, virtually all the changes are under the hood. The official Beta 2 release incorporates bug fixes and changes to the underlying rendering engine that developers should appreciate, and the whole thing should now be stable enough for anyone to use or test.
How does the latest release of IE measure up to the latest from Firefox? For the answers, I compared IE7 Beta 2 on Windows XP against the most recent general release of Firefox, version 18.104.22.168.
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