applied tips : may 2009

internet explorer 8's new features

This month, Microsoft began pushing Internet Explorer 8 (IE8) as a recommended update for its users, replacing IE7 which was released in October, 2006. The two and a half years have yielded many new features for users of the web, and this document will share most of the noteworthy ones.

InPrivate

With privacy becoming more and more of a concern with web users, especially when using a public computer, the InPrivate feature is likely to become the most appreciated new feature of IE8.

When activated, IE turns off all tracking features such as history, cookies, automatic password entry, and form auto-complete. It automatically clears temporary files on the computer, and makes tracking your viewing history nearly impossible without specialized tools.

Consider it "stealth mode" for viewing the web.

Accelerators

The Accelerator feature makes copy-and-pasting practically obsolete. While viewing a web page, you can select text with your mouse (such as an address) and use the pop-up Accelerator feature to automatically take the selected text and transfer it to another website for you (such as Google Maps) to return information.

Accelerator in Action

Another example: you could select a phrase, invoke the Wikipedia Accelerator, and instantly be on the Wikipedia entry for that phrase.

Or perhaps you've selected a stock symbol or company name. An Accelerator could take you directly to current financial reports about that corporation.

Here's a sample of some of the Accelerators already available:

Microsoft and other developers are busy creating new Accelerators, but a library of over 100 already exist for free download.

Web Slices

Web SliceWebsite designers can take content sections (or "Web Slices") from within their website and program them in such a way that Internet Explorer 8 can identify them and save them for instant recall at any time.

Imagine viewing an item on eBay that you want to check on, or a stock ticker, or the news feed from your local paper. By subscribing to the Web Slice (similar to subscribing to an RSS feed), IE8 can display just that portion of the website whenever you need it without actually viewing the page.

The feature includes a very quickly way to display all of the Web Slices you've subscribed to, great for quickly scanning the topics you're interested in.

This might end up being another fad like the Active-X Desktop, but it has the potential to replace RSS.  

Address Bar Enhancements

Personally, these are my favorite changes because I'm a quick typist and commonly use the keyboard and address bar to search and visit websites.

Address Bar

Now, when you click into the address bar (where you would type a website address) and start typing, IE8 will immediately display websites that you've previously visited and those from your Favorites which you can easily select using your arrow keys.  (It's similar to typing a few letters in Outlook when addressing an email.)

The feature also allows you to easily remove pages from your history, such as invalid addresses.

Search and Find

Searching became tremendously easier with IE7 and its Search Provider feature. IE8 takes that a step further with search-as-you-type. If I have Amazon selected as my Search Provider, and start typing "Hitchhikers" it will automatically show relevant results and allow me to select one without typing the rest of the phrase.

Finding content within a webpage got easier too. Now when you press Control+F and type a few letters or words, occurrences of that term will automatically be highlighted throughout the page. Pressing Enter moves forward, and Shift-Enter moves backwards. It's great!

Developer Tools and Rendering

Developer ToolsWebsite developers will appreciate that IE8 now includes a built-in diagnostic tool for inspecting HTML code, CSS, and Javascript, and more. Many developers are familiar with similar tools that have been on Firefox for some time now, and while IE7 had a limited add-in for troubleshooting, the IE8 built-in tool is fantastic.

IE8 also adheres better to WC3 HTML standards, and once the majority of IE6 and 7 users convert to IE8, developers will have a far better time creating great-looking websites.

Performance, Stability, and Security

Of course, IE8 comes with the usual promises of improved performance, stability, and security. In the few months that I've been using IE8, I have to say that Microsoft has delivered.

The browser feels slightly faster, but I have to attribute that to the new search tools I spoke about earlier.

As for stability, I can't contest that. Each tab now runs in its own protected memory area, which means that if a page crashes (which can happen) it no longer takes down the entire browser. This is a giant feature for those of us who often have 5 or 10 pages open at the same time.

Microsoft has improved the security of the browser as well, with improved phishing filters and other miscellaneous tweaks here and there.  But the biggest change that users will see is up in the address bar:

Address Bar - Domain Highlighting

If you look carefully at the website address, you'll see that the domain (appliedoffice.net) is in dark black with the rest of the URL in gray. This subtle difference allows users to quickly identify what website they're really visiting.

If you expected to be on Bank of America, and don't see bofa.com in bold, you know something is phishy.

Should you Upgrade?

Before you jump in, this question begs three more questions:

  1. Do you have an IT department that is responsible for the upkeep of your computer?
  2. Do you have very special web applications that require IE6 or IE7 to work?
  3. Are you still on Windows ME, 98, or earlier?

If you answered yes to either of these, then you might want to hold off. Your IT department should coordinate the upgrade for you, along with the other users in the organization. And if you are running web applications (such as CMS), it's possible that they might not work yet in IE8.

Most home users will be fine upgrading, but if you're still on Windows ME or 98 then you're out of luck as IE8 is only available for Windows XP, Vista, and soon Windows 7.