Microsoft really wants the IT pros to check out the just-released Internet Explorer beta. It's got checklists of stuff you should run through on the download site. But if you're just an average Joe Tirekicker, be prepared to jump through some hoops to get the beta up and running on your system. Not big hoops, just enough annoyance to make you think maybe you don't need to bother.The process of downloading and installing the IE 7 beta is a lot like standing in line for a popular ride at DisneyWorld. Every time you turn a corner you think surely this is the big room, now you'll get to go, but no, not yet.
The good news is that you can do it, and the payoff is a look at some very good user interface ideas. (I haven't played with it enough yet to know whether it's any good or not, just that it LOOKS good.)
Start at Microsoft's IE 7 Download page and save a little file to your hard disk. Run it to begin the installation and . . . .
Oops, the package does not support your system architecture. You did notice that fine print back there on the download page that said the beta runs only on XP SP2 systems, didn't you? If you're running anything else, please get off the bus at the next stop.
OK, so you go to another PC and download and save the little file to you hard disk, run it to begin the installation and . . . .
Oops, you are running genuine licensed Microsoft XP SP2, aren't you? Just click here to run the Active-X control that will validate your Windows installation and . . . .
Oops, your current version of Internet Explorer won't run the control. Instead, click on "Validate" below and . . . .
Oops, that was just a test. Nothing happens but an empty window. Look up at the top of the screen, at the line that says "The previous window may require you to click here to install this Active-X Control . . . .
Oops, you clicked on the "here" and nothing happened, did it? Click on the little icon to the left of this line of text. Hey, the Active-X control installs! Great! Now . . . .
Oops, how do you get back to that "Just click here to run the Active-X control that will validate your Windows installation" screen? The same way you get to Carnegie Hall, kid -- practice.
You may have to go clear back out and run the little file again for the fifth or sixth time, but eventually IE 7 will install, replacing your current copy of IE Whatever. (You can't go home again, kid.) So you open it up and . . . .
Oops, everything just hangs? Ah, well, if you're running Norton Internet Security, there's a pop-up window telling you Internet Explorer is trying to access the Internet (like, duh!) and to prevent it just click here. The only problem is, this window pops up BEHIND IE 7, not on top of it.
Finally, you see the thing itself. And it even picks up your old bookmarks! (I'll bet you hadn't backed them up like that fine print told you to, had you?)
When I finally got the browser open the first thing I noticed was how closely Microsoft has been studying Firefox. There are tabbed browser panes, with a couple of cool little features that Firefox ought to steal back: One is a gray tablet that shows just to right of your right-most tab. Just click it to open a new tab, no need to go to the File menu the way Firefox makes you do. And each new tab includes a red X -- a close box, no need to right-click and pick "Close Tab" from the local menu.
IE 7 is supposed to do a whole lot of stuff with security which I look forward to trying out. Already I've clicked on a nag-screen to enable an anti-phishing feature. I'm hoping for the best but prepared for the worst: my experience with all the IE 6 security stuff was that it did a lot to make using the browser more annoying, but very little to make it more secure. We'll see if any of that is better in 7. Stay tuned.