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?
Which browser handles the basics better?
The clean and spare IE7 interface is essentially unchanged from the Beta 2 preview release I looked at in February. By efficiently mixing buttons and menus in a single command bar that shares a row with the tab bar, IE7's page layout provides a bit more room than IE6 or Firefox for viewing the contents of the current page. The traditional top-level menu is hidden in a default installation (it reappears temporarily with a tap of the Alt key). The standard toolbar vanishes too, shrinking to a much smaller and more compact set of buttons.
The new Favorites Center. Click image to enlarge and to launch image gallery.
The new Favorites Center in IE7 combines the Favorites menu and the Explorer Bar in a single drop-down list that can be pinned to the left side of the browser window. Printing is smarter, shrinking pages to fit on a single sheet of paper and offering a useful preview. One especially innovative feature in IE7 is the new Zoom button in the lower-right corner of the browser window. Clicking the button zooms the entire page -- graphics and text -- from 100% to 125% and then 150%; or use the slider to pick custom zoom levels up to 10 times the original page size.
Despite the significant interface changes, this version of IE feels familiar, and it's easy to accomplish common tasks. All in all, it's a cleaner look than Firefox and easier to navigate for everyday tasks, but the difference is hardly enough to make it worth switching.
Web developers have heaped scorn on IE6 over the years, and with good reason. Building a Web site that works well with modern browsers and IE6 requires memorizing an encyclopedia of hacks and workarounds. IE7 promises to fix many of the most critical bugs and do a better job at following Web standards. Although it won't pass the Acid2 Test, the preview version of IE7 Beta 2 has received favorable early reviews from some influential Web designers.
Advantage: Too close to call
Which browser makes it easier to use and manage tabs?
One advantage of coming in late to the tabbed browsing party, as Internet Explorer has, is that you get to improve on the ideas of those who've gone before you. IE7's controls for opening, closing, and managing tabbed windows are noticeably simpler than those in Firefox, with a button on the tab bar to open a new window and a red X to close the active Web page. Out of the box, closing a Firefox tab is a potentially awkward two-click operation -- one click to select the tab, and a second click on the red X at the far right of the tab bar. The process is annoying enough that most Firefox experts quickly install a tab-browsing extension.
You can click the Quick Tabs button to see thumbnails of all your open tabbed pages. Click image to enlarge and to launch image gallery.
You can manage two or three open pages easily enough, but after opening a dozen or more pages the tabbed interface becomes essentially unusable. At that point, Internet Explorer provides a much easier way to manage all those open pages. Click the Quick Tabs button at the left of the tab bar to see a thumbnail view of all open tabs. From this window, you can close any tab you no longer need to keep open and then switch to a new active tab with a single click. To get similar functionality in Firefox, you need to install an extension like Viamatic foXpose.
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