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Microsoft Says Internet Explorer 8 Will Be More IT Friendly

The software vendor will add a number of features to Internet Explorer 8 for IT departments beyond those already offered in IE7.

With Web browsers taking a central role in the work lives of more employees as software-as-a-service explodes and workers look to the Web for customers and research, Microsoft plans to make Internet Explorer 8 even more IT friendly than previous versions.

IE8, due out by the end of the year, will add a number of features for IT departments beyond those already offered in IE7 and before. For example, Microsoft will make it easier to include IE8 in Windows Vista installations (it's unclear if XP is part of the equation), so IE8 is an automatic part of operating system configurations. Microsoft estimates the time to do this will decrease from 2 hours to 10 to 15 minutes per each configuration with IE8.

Since Microsoft is improving standards support in IE8 -- and many Web apps and sites don't conform to standards -- the company will offer the Application Compatibility Toolkit, which will help companies find and fix compatibility problems. Group Policy settings will also allow companies to control settings, like one called "Emulate IE7" that can help keep sites compatible.

Security features will also get some upgrades, such as the ability to install and run ActiveX controls in a sort of sandbox so that if the control is malicious, it only affects on user's account or only runs on one site. Admins can also manage add-ons to make sure they are secure and don't suck up memory. A new default option called Data Execution Prevention prevents non-executable code from running in memory and can help stop some common attacks like buffer overruns. Another feature, cross document messaging -- already found in Opera -- is supposed to help prevent cross-site scripting attacks carried out by mash-ups.

Microsoft already includes a number of centralized deployment, security, and management features in IE7. The Internet Explorer Administration Kit lets IT admins, among other things, centrally deploy and manage the browser and its security and communication settings as well as customize IE by adding specific Web feeds and setting home pages or default search providers.

Microsoft's corporate update services like Windows Server Update Service and Systems Management Server also allow companies to centrally deploy and update the browser, and settings can be managed with Windows Server Group Policy and Active Directory.

Internet Explorer's biggest browser competitor, Mozilla, will release Firefox 3.0 next Tuesday. But Mozilla takes a hands-off approach with businesses and business features. It doesn't offer any paid tech support and has few tools for central deployment and management, opting instead to let third party developers create add-ons like FirefoxADM to give IT admins the features they need.

Still, Firefox use continues to grow inside corporations and outside as well, and one of the reasons might be security. Studies have consistently shown that Firefox is less likely to be the victim of virus or phishing attacks, and Mozilla VP of engineering Mike Schroepfer said in an interview last month that means less support calls to IT help desks from frustrated employees. Firefox 3.0 adds a better phishing filter as well as malware detection that finds viruses and other malware before a Web page loads.

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