Friday, 10 October 2008

IE8 – initial opinion...

My general advice to all my customers is never to use the first major release of new software from Microsoft – let someone else debug it for you – and then take it after the first Service Pack or minor release. However, those of you that have known me over the past few years will know that I’m a technical geek at heart, have always be interested in the latest technology as soon as it is available, and so you’ll not be surprised that I’ve moved my browsing across to Internet Explorer Beta 2.

My early impressions are very good – the only minor problems I’ve found have been solved by turning on the compatibility viewer for some sites that don’t display properly under IE8. There has been a massive improvement in usability and stability, with noticeable improvements in performance over IE7.

The biggest benefit has been the use of accelerators – primarily for use with searches and maps. I use the Internet a lot for research, and the ability to highlight a word or phrase and then search on it without having to cut-and-paste it into the search box is very useful. However, as a committed user of Internet mapping (before putting the address into my SatNav), the ability to highlight a postcode (of a prospect’s office or a hotel location) to then get a map in a new tab, is really useful. I can see this functionality being embraced by a variety of other web-sites above and beyond the subset included in the beta programme.

I also work with a lot of tabs open in my browser. Although only a minor improvement, IE8’s grouping of the tabs is very helpful, and does help one’s focus on a particular route of investigation, without being drawn off at a tangent by tabs opened for other reasons.

Whilst the Web Slices functionality looks potentially of use, the slices available with the beta are few and far between. I thought the eBay slice looked of interest, but I’ve yet to work out how to load it into my browser area – and even when I use it off the eBay web-site, it only searches the US site – not the UK eBay site – so not much use yet. But this sort of functionality might be embraced by Councils who want to offer a local information service to their citizens?

I haven’t had the courage to turn on the suggested sites functionality yet (I have too many pages to view already, without any automated suggestions). Also, I’ve not used the InPrivate Browsing (more popularly known as “porn mode”) that allows you to open a new browsing session where no record is kept of your travels.

Controversially, IE8 (like Google’s Chrome browser) allows users to effectively block third party cookies and pixels, blocking any kind of outside advertising based on tracking and analytics services – great – let’s have as much of this as is possible and legal!

IE8’s phishing filter SmartScreen appears to be much better than IE7, and a full-window warning pops up when you stumble upon a suspected phishing site. However, SmartScreen relies largely on a database of known phishing sites, so a new, unknown phishing site may be able to slip through the cracks. IE8 also displays sites' domains in a darker text colour, so you can more easily see whether you're actually visiting a page, say, or in reality a page on some site you've never heard of.

Have I noticed the supposed improvement in performance of IE8? Yes – it seems to be noticeably faster on many websites – with an even better improvement on my complex sites (like portfolio/stock pages) which use JavaScript.

Is it more stable? Yes – stable as a rock – despite a week of heavy usage IE8 has yet to crash. Yet my usage of IE7 (particularly with a lot of open tabs) would regularly see a crash or two a day. The stability has been so good that I’ve not had the opportunity to test its improved crash recovery and the ability to recover the last browsing session in case the browser does crash, or even if you just accidentally close it yourself.

If you want to try IE8 (most probably at home – as I’m sure your IT department at work won’t allow it yet) click
here for more information and a download site (but if you do download, make sure you disable any add-on toolbars before you run it or it can, reputedly, crash).

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