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August 27, 2008

A Comprehensive Look at Internet Explorer Beta 2

Today, the Internet Explorer Team has made available Internet Explorer 8 Beta 2 for all to download. You can read the IE Team’s announcement of the new release and very important milestone here from IE General Manager Dean Hachamovitch on the IEBlog.

Download: Internet Explorer 8 Beta 2

Also be sure to read this post from Program Manager Jane Maliouta on upgrading to IE8 Beta 2. It includes some very important information such as how to uninstall IE8 Beta 1 and more.

Internet Explorer 8 comes packed with new features designed to make browsing the web much easier and finding what you want much quicker. Matter of fact, based on my own experiences with IE8 these past few weeks, finding your “stuff” quicker is a very strong theme in IE8. I’ve discovered with IE8 that browsing the web is much more efficient. There are some brand new features in IE8 I’d like to call out, based on my own experiences that I think users will find very useful in browsing the web. I’ve found these features in IE8 so useful in fact that I am using IE8 Beta 2 on all my PCs. Keep in mind there are far too many new features and changes in IE8 for me to highlight in a single post. I’m only going to cover some of IE8’s biggest new features and features I use the most.

First off: when you fire up IE8 you’ll notice that the IE “chrome” has changed from the glossy metallic look to a softer light blue look with less gloss.


The most notable change to the UI in Internet Explorer 8 users will take notice of is the Favorites Bar. And this is one of the new features in IE8 I use the most. Essentially – the Favorites Bar is designed to help users highlight there most used Favorites and other information they want quick access to.

Side note on customization in IE8: Many readers of this blog have expressed to me unhappiness with the lack of customization in IE7. IE8 brings some changes that allow much more customization that I think users will be happy with. You can unlock the toolbars and drag the IE menu bar to a variety of places in IE8. You can also right click in IE8’s menu and choose Customize where you can have the refresh and stop buttons moved to the front of the Address Bar. Those who also prefer not to have the Favorites Bar showing will be pleased to know you can turn it off (although I don’t know why you would want to!).

The Favorites Bar is also a key component to another new feature in IE8: Web Slices.  Web Slices are little “slices” of information within a website that can be subscribed to and added to the Favorites Bar. As information within these Web Slices update, they become bold in the Favorites Bar signifying new information is available within a specific Web Slice.  When I visit a website that has a Web Slice, instead of the standard orange RSS icon I get a green Web Slice icon. I visited Digg (a favorite website of mine) with IE8 and noticed that they have a Web Slice available for top “dugg” topics.

I clicked on the green Web Slice icon and added the Digg Web Slice to my Favorites Bar. There, I can click on the Digg Web Slice to check out the current top dugg posts.

Digg is one of my favorite Web Slices along with the Facebook Web Slice. The Facebook Web Slice allows you to stay on top of your Facebook friend’s Status Updates. I found this very useful.

TIP: You can resize the Web Slice “window” by grabbing the bottom right-hand corner.

You are able to add RSS feeds you subscribe to in IE8 to the Favorites Bar as well. To stay on top of all the tech news happening in the blogosphere – I am constantly watching Techmeme. By subscribing to Techmeme’s RSS feed and adding it to my Favorites Bar in IE8 – it’s easier for me to keep tabs on the latest geek news.

When I subscribed to the Techmeme RSS feed, all I had to do was make sure “Add to Favorites Bar” was checked and when I hit subscribe – it automatically appeared in my Favorites Bar. When the feed updates, just like with Web Slices the RSS feed will become bold.

IE8 introduces the Smart Address Bar designed to help you get to where you want to go on the web quicker. One of the most common tasks for users in web browsers is getting back to websites they use regularly. Much of my web browsing is essentially getting to websites I regularly visit and check. With the Smart Address Bar – getting back to these sites is much easier.

The Smart Address Bar matches what I type in the address bar with websites in History, Favorites, and RSS Feeds. It also features an Autocomplete Suggestion as well for whatever website I am trying to get to. I’ve found that IE8’s Autocomplete Suggestion has been pretty spot on which is great. Mistyped entries can also be deleted by simply clicking the red X to the right of any entry. Autocomplete works across your history as well as your feeds. Domain Highlighting is also used in the Smart Address Bar in IE8. This allows me to quickly identify which domain I’m on. If I am on the Windows Vista Team Blog, the Smart Address Bar will show the URL for the site as However, only is highlighted. Believe it or not this is actually a security feature. Domain Highlighting is designed to aid users in identifying deceptive phishing websites. If a user suddenly discovers a domain highlighted that doesn’t make sense and seems a little shady, they can proceed in reporting the site via IE8 as a phishing site.

The second most common thing I do in the web browser is web search. IE8 has some impressive enhancements to its inline search box that make search. When I search for something, I can quickly switch between multiple search providers by clicking the search provider icon.

With Live Search as a search provider (the default search provider on my PCs), when I typed in something I was looking for – Live Search offers me suggestions in real-time to help me find what I’m looking for. When searching the web via IE8’s inline search box – it also searches your web history as well.

So what if you want to find something on a specific webpage you are on? IE8 is very accommodating with this scenario. Using the feature Find-on-Page (Ctrl + F), I can quickly get search results for something I am looking for on single page.

When I press Ctrl + F, the Find-on-Page Toolbar appears (under the tabs) and allows me to search the site. In the above screenshot, I searched the Featured Community website Windows-Now for the term “windows”. As you can see, Find-on-Page highlights each instance of the term I am searching for and also counts the results. Find-on-Page found 20 results for the word “windows” on this specific page on Windows-Now.

Another way to find information within specific websites is to use Accelerators in IE8. In IE8 Beta 1 we called these “Activities” but in IE8 Beta 2 they are now called Accelerators. Accelerators appear in IE8 when you highlight text and right-click on the blue Accelerator icon. Here I highlighted the word “virtual machine” and used the Encarta Accelerator to find the definition of “virtual machine”.

If I am visiting a website that has an address that I want to quickly map – I can use the Live Search Maps Accelerator to quickly map the address. Accelerators don’t have to just come from Microsoft. 3rd parties can take full advantage of creating Accelerators and users can quickly add in IE8.

TIP: You can manage Accelerators, Search Providers, and Toolbars & Extensions all in one spot via IE8’s updated Manage Add-ons Panel by going to Tools and then Manage Add-ons.

There are a few more things I’d like to call out in IE8 I think users will enjoy. Managing Tabs in IE8 is enhanced to accommodate getting to those websites you like to visit. For example, when I open a new tab in IE8, it allows me to re-open closed tabs. For me, many closed tabs were websites I often visit so it’s nice to be able to simply open a new tab and quickly re-open a website I want to get to again.

The new tab screen also allows you to access Accelerators as well.

Another new thing with tabs is Tab Groups. I have a habit of right-clicking on hyperlinks and clicking “Open in New Tab”. When I do this – a new tab is of course opened but the tab that I opened a new tab on as well as the new tab is colored. These Tab Groups allow me to keep track of groups of tabs that I am going between. I’ve found this incredibly useful in managing what I do in IE8.

Speaking of tabs, IE8 comes with a crash recovery feature for when a tab in IE8 crashes it is automatically reloaded and restored. The real beauty of this feature is that, unlike other browsers, IE8 does not need to restart in the event of a crash. You could be watching a video in one tab and if another tab crashes you won’t miss a thing. It’ crash recovery done right. Any information entered on the page such as a email you’re writing in Windows Live Hotmail or a form you are filling out is automatically restored.

As many folks know by now, the Internet Explorer Team has focused on making IE8 standards compliant. IE8 passes the Acid2 Test and offers full support for the CSS 2.1 specification. These are just two of the many changes made in IE8 to support standards and interoperability. Because of these changes, users may notice some of their websites make not look correctly because they were designed for older browsers. IE8 comes with a feature called Compatibility View that lets users quickly switch from IE8’s standards compliant layout engine to IE7’s layout engine.

Unlike in Beta 1 of IE8, switching into Compatibility View doesn’t require the restart of IE8. When you click on the Compatibility View button on a specific website – that website is refreshed in “compatibility mode”. Compatibility View works on a per-website (domain) basis.

For more information on Compatibility Mode in IE8 Beta 2 – read this in-depth post from IE Lead Program Manager Scott Dickens.

UPDATE: Ed Bott just posted his comprehensive look at IE8 Beta 2. You can read his post here.

I am just touching the tip of the iceberg here with IE8 features. Expect more in-depth coverage from the folks working on these features in IE8 from the IE Team themselves over on the IEBlog in the coming weeks.

Congratulations to the IE Team for this excellent release!

Also take note of a brand new design for the IE Add-ons site launching for IE8 called the Internet Explorer Gallery at

The Internet Explorer Gallery allows you to find all kinds of neat Accelerators, Web Slices, and Search Providers. It’s a great place to start after you get Internet Explorer 8 Beta 2 installed!