Internet Explorer 8 Review


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“Who cares?” I hear you say, “Just use Firefox”

Well, wherever your browser allegiances lie, IE8 is still a very important release and developers have to know what to expect from this new browser.

The current IE beta is pretty unstable, almost unusable so I wouldn’t really recommend giving it a spin just for interest’s sake. The following guide is what you can expect from the final version.

Whilst researching this I was surprised about the number of changes being made with the next Internet Explorer. I guess I’ve become accustomed to the incremental releases from most developers, or perhaps the Firefox 3 release which essentially brought very little new to the browser… just greatly improved existing performance and enhanced functionality.

Actually, before I do, here is an image of a mock-up for IE using the new Office Ribbon interface. This has been discarded, but it’s interesting to see ideas the developers have been playing around with:


User Interface

I don’t know how well this would have worked, but I think I’m glad it was rejected. Great though the ribbon is for applications like MS Office, for browsing small and sleak is much much better.

So in beta 1 you won’t find many changes in the UI, but you can expect a few more to appear for the final release, the idea was to keep navigation and toolbars as ‘thin’ as possible vertically; somewhere around the 120 pixels mark.

Additionally the menus and interface will be a little more customisable, readjustments of existing tools for better exposure and a dedicated Firefox style addons interface.


There can be nothing more frustrating to a web developer then cross-browser support. I’m not going to go into detail on the so-called “browser wars”or the patchy standards support of Internet Explorer. You know all this, if you don’t then Wikipedia is a great place to start.

Internet Explorer 8 is Microsoft’s first real attempt for complete standards support. This could of course cause huge issues with pages coded for IE6 and 7, so Microsoft has made it possible for web developers to place a meta tag on their site, so a IE8 browser displays the site in IE7 mode.

This is the single most important change in IE8, and one you will probably not even notice if you’re not a developer. Expect some uproar across the web as webpages are broken, but with time it’ll settle down.

From the IE Blog:

In parallel with the CSS 2.1 implementation in the upcoming beta, the IE Test team has been developing test cases against the CSS 2.1 specification. Today we’re happy to announce that we’ve submitted an additional 2524 more test cases to the W3C for inclusion into the CSS 2.1 test suite. This brings the test suite much closer to the necessary breadth needed to ensure that web sites will interoperate. These tests are available on the IE Development Forum until they are fully reviewed by the working group and accepted into the official test suite.


A bit less interesting, but even more important is the security changes. Internet Explorer 7 was a major step in terms of security, and IE8 continues that even more so. Key security changes include:

SmartScreen Filter
Essentially the improved Phishing filter of IE7.

Domain Highlighting
Malicious websites often use long domain names to confuse people into thinking they are on a different website. Domain highlighting exposes the domain name, and if IE detects the site is unsafe, turns the whole address bar red to bring a your attention to the fact.


More Secure ActiveX Controls
Further changes have been made to ActiveX to prevent malware being loaded onto a users computer. Even if it is installed by a user it be prevented from installation. Exceptions have been built in for trusted controls such as Microsoft, Adobe and Apple. Data Execution Prevention has also been turned on by default in IE8.


Activities are Microsoft’s answer to Firefox’s extensions, although IE can also run extensions. Paul Thurrott explains exactly what these activities features are:

Activities… provide contextual menus on Web pages that can provide additional information via Web services that will lead readers to new locations. The contents of these contextual menus are determined by what’s selected on the page and which Activities are available in the user’s browser. Put another way, the functionality is not provided by the underlying Web site at all. It is instead provided by the browser via this new feature.

On one level, Activities are interesting and useful, as we’ll see in a moment. However, they also allow users to completely bypass whatever facilities the Web site itself has provided. So, for example, you might use the IE 8 Activities feature to find a Yahoo! Map for a selected address on a Web page. But that page may supply its own map, one that you have now chosen to bypass. My suspicion is that this feature will cause the same consternation among Web developers that Smart Tags did seven years ago. What may offset these complaints is that many Activities are now created by Microsoft’s competitors, and many more are sure to come in the days ahead; with Smart Tags, the default tags were all Microsoft-specific, raising privacy and exclusivity concerns.


Interestingly Webslices where a technology intended for Internet Explorer all the way back in 1996–7. Web Slices are part-widget, part RSS feed. Personally I don’t find it a particularly exciting addition to IE, but it may be different in practice.

Essentially you can take a ‘screenshot’ of a page which then updates dynamically and can be viewed without loading up the whole site again.

Developer Tools and Changes

Aside from standards compatibility IE8 also includes developer tools right into the browser like Firefox does. It has also improved Ajax support, meaning that the navigation buttons can be used be Rich Internet Applications (RIAs) to go to the previous task without navigating back to the previous page.

There are also a lot of general performance improvements.

Enterprise Features:

From SuperSite blog:

  • Add IE8 as part of IT’s Windows Vista image;
  • Use Group Policy to control how IE8 renders older Web sites;
  • Improve crash resilience for quicker recovery and minimal disruption; and
  • Manage and deploy customized versions of IE8 with an enhanced Internet Explorer Administration Kit (IEAK).

As you may have noticed, this release of IE is targeted at developers first and foremost. It’s the browser they’ve been waiting for for years, with full CSS support, accurate HTML reading and standards compatibility.

Many of these changes are not going to be noticed by end users, but they will impact significantly on their experience browsing the web. Hopefully they will be safer, more secure, stability and performing significantly faster.