Internet Explorer 7: Beta Late than Never?

In our information age, few applications receive more use than Web browsers. While numerous more-than-capable alternatives exist, chances are most of us use or have recently used Microsoft Internet Explorer, the browser that comes with Windows. But while there have been innovations over the last couple of years in competing browsers, most notably in Opera and Mozilla Firefox, Internet Explorer 6 has, for the most part, lagged far behind.

To keep pace with the others, Microsoft is working to introduce Internet Explorer version 7, which was recently offered to the public in a pre-release second beta version. In version 7, Microsoft offers new features, but almost all of them are of the “catch-up” variety — new features that can already be found in the competition’s browsers.

But when it’s complete, Internet Explorer Version 7 (IE7) should be mostly on par with the others by offering tabbed browsing, RSS feed capability, integrated search engines, stronger security and a streamlined interface. It’s important to note that the current beta was released primarily for developers to test their pages and applications for compatibility; as a result, it lacks the polished look and feel one would expect from an official release.

Keeping Tabs
Ask anyone who uses Firefox and he or she will probably tell you that in addition to the security of using a non-Microsoft browser, one of the biggest selling points is the tabbed browsing interface. Like Firefox, IE7 offers a tabbed interface that lets you open numerous Web pages in a single window and view each one by clicking on its respective tab, much as you can switch between worksheets in Microsoft Excel. This feature is particularly handy when comparing prices at different sites, conducting multiple searches, comparing opinions or angles on topics, and more.

Once you have grown accustomed to opening and working with multiple Web pages, it’s a convenience that’s hard to live without. Microsoft is not only wise to add this feature to IE7, but failing to add it would have been downright ridiculous at this stage of the game. It’s that essential.

After launching IE7, your home page appears in the first tabbed window. To view other sites, you simply click a New Tab Button, which opens a new page. Each page effectively acts as another browser. To close a tab, you click an icon that appears to the right of the selected tab. There’s also a convenient Quick Tabs icon that helps you find sites that you want to view or close those you’re no longer working with.

Feed Me

Like the other browsers, IE7 supports RSS feeds — services that feed or download information such as news updates, sports scores, special discounts from e-commerce sites, and more, directly to the browser. By integrating RSS capabilities into IE7, you can more easily find out when new information is available on the Web.

In use, when a site offers a feed, IE7’s RSS Feed icon illuminates and flashes. The program lets you subscribe to RSS Feeds by clicking an Add/Subscribe icon and lets you later review pages in the Favorites Center. If you’re accustomed to using the RSS feed features in other browsers, you’ll find that IE7’s implementation works in much the same way, even sporting a similar icon.

In something of a concession, IE7 offers a built-in search function that lets you hunt for information via major search function engines and without having to open a search provider’s page. You can set the search provider that you want to use as your default and compare results against those of other search providers by choosing them from a list. You’re also free to add search providers that are not provided with the program.

An ever-present necessity, Microsoft has beefed up security in IE7. To start, IE7 alerts you to potential “phishing” sites — underhanded sites that appear legitimate but encourage you to enter personal and financial information so it can be stolen and used for nefarious purposes. The function works by referencing a site against a database of known sites and looking for certain features that indicate phishing.

The program monitors for unwanted and malicious programs that may be installed from questionable Web sites. It also indicates when a site has a valid secure sockets layer (SSL) certificate or if there are irregularities in its certification.

The new Delete Browsing History button offers options for removing a browsing trail. You can choose to delete passwords, cookies, temporary Internet files or any combination of the three. There’s also a convenient “Delete All” that will take care of everything.

IE7 continues to support ActiveX, often the means by which hackers perform their dirty deeds. Opera and Firefox lack ActiveX support, which does eliminate some risk but limits their functionality to a degree.

While IE7 is adding decent security measures, there’s still safety in using a non-Microsoft browser that isn’t the number-one target of hackers throughout the civilized and uncivilized worlds.

Beyond Skin Deep
IE7 offers modifications that are designed to make it more attractive to the eye, more intuitive and more efficient to use. To accomplish this, Microsoft has consolidated menu items, redesigned and displayed smaller icons, and decreased the toolbar’s height to optimize limited screen space and show more of each Web page. To help users troubleshoot, IE7 offers a safe mode that prevents add-ons and plug-ins from loading.

Overall, in this latest iteration of Internet Explorer, Microsoft is mostly playing catch-up. But the features to be found in Internet Explorer 7 are good ones. We look forward to seeing the next pre-release version, if there is one, as well as the final version, which is expected in late 2006. As it stands, IE7 will be available for Windows Vista and Windows XP with Service Pack 2.

Pros: Tabbed browsing and integrated RSS support finally added to IE, built-in phishing filter and other security enhancements, better standards compliance.

Cons: Preview release lacks finalized feature-set and polish of official release, only available for Windows XP SP2 for now (as well as Windows Vista upon final release), still the most frequent victim of security vulnerabilities in terms of popular browsers.

Adapted from

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