IE7 For XP Beta 2: Has Firefox Met Its Match?

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?
Can I use either browser to manage RSS feeds?
Firefox has offered the capability to turn RSS feeds into Live Bookmarks since version 1.0. Clicking a Live Bookmark icon from the Bookmarks menu displays a list of the headlines available from the selected feed. That's fine for a feed with punchy, descriptive headlines. It's a terribly inefficient way to read information-rich feeds, however, especially those that are packed with graphics and full text.

RSS feeds appear as formatted Web pages along with a link to subscribe to the feed.. Click image to enlarge and to launch image gallery.
By contrast, IE7's implementation of RSS feeds is simple and elegant. When you click on a link that leads to an RSS feed, the feed's contents display in a specially formatted page within the browser. A box at the top of the page provides details about the feed and offers a link to subscribe to it. The box on the right side of the page lets you filter the list by entering search terms or clicking category names, which are automatically extracted from the feed.

Best of all, the RSS store is a system service that other applications can share. For instance, Outlook 2007, now in beta testing and scheduled for release with the rest of Office 2007 later this year, can share RSS subscriptions and downloaded items with IE7, so that you can subscribe to a feed in either program and view the same feed in a browser window or alongside e-mail messages. NewsGator, which sells RSS readers for virtually every operating system, has already announced its intention to support IE7's sync features.

Advantage: IE7

Where does IE7 fall short?
Despite its excellent efforts, IE7 falls short of Firefox in two crucial areas.

IE7 Beta 2

•  Facing Firefox

•  Standards And Tabs

•  Security Matters

•  Conclusions

•  Image Gallery

The first is the ever-expanding library of Firefox extensions, small user-written programs that add features and fix annoyances in the officially released browser. By contrast, the number of add-ons for Internet Explorer is much smaller -- not surprisingly, the tightest levels of integration are between IE7 and Microsoft Office. If you're a fanatic about tweaking and tuning your browser, Firefox offers many more choices.

The other critical failing in IE7 is a weak set of password management tools. Just as in previous versions, IE7 can save a username and password combination for any Web page. But there's no way to edit saved passwords or copy them to a secure location. By contrast, Firefox allows you to view and manage saved passwords; it even imports saved passwords from IE7's protected store.

Advantage: Firefox

On a straight, feature-for-feature comparison, IE7 stacks up well against Firefox. If its improved security model lives up to its design specs, malware distributors will find it much more difficult to make a dishonest living, and the tabbed browsing features in the new release should make it much easier to deal with multiple pages.

The biggest hurdle that Internet Explorer has to overcome, however, is one that doesn't fit on any features chart. Its tattered reputation -- especially when it comes to security -- has created an indelible negative impression among the technically savvy users who've enthusiastically adopted Firefox so far. Even if the final release of IE7 improves mightily over the current beta, building that new and improved reputation will be an uphill climb.