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First Look: IE8 Beta 2 -- Catching Up With Firefox

Internet Explorer 8 Beta 2 was released late last month, so I gave it a test run. Microsoft added enhancements to IE8, but the browser generally has been stagnant for several years. IE8 appears to bring some additional functionality and security to the product.

I set up a virtualized copy of Windows XP SP2 to test it. The installation process went smoothly, without any problems. IE8 works fairly well, even at Beta 2 level, and it very much resembles IE7.

Tabbed browsing made its appearance in IE 7.0, perhaps in response to the Mozilla Firefox browser. IE8 has a quick tabs feature, which shows thumbnail previews of all open tabs. The interface could use some work. For instance, a toolbar containing buttons for Home, RSS and other shortcuts took up valuable space.

Tabs will start to get squished together if you have more than five open at a time, especially if you're using a lower screen resolution. I often have 20 or more tabs open at once in Firefox. The toolbar can be moved, but it's still a poor default design.

IE8's memory usage has been a concern. Some reports claim that IE8 alone uses 380 MB of memory. That's a lot, considering that Windows XP running all by itself consumes roughly 150 MB.

Another complaint is that IE8 uses three times as many CPU threads as its predecessor. However, in my test (which did not include formal benchmarking), I got very good performance out of IE8 even in a virtualized environment. As a beta release, IE8 has not been optimized, and performance may improve with the final release. Beta code typically is slower and more bloated than the final product.

The security features on IE8 are decent. For instance, I had a spam e-mail appear in my in-box from a fake credit union. Both IE8 and Firefox 3 had no problem identifying that site as a phishing scam.

IE8 can include add-ons, a feature that resembles extensions in Firefox. Currently, not many add-ons are available, but it's a new feature in IE8. Some add-ons are shareware, such as Adblocker (not to be confused with Firefox's Adblock/Adblock Plus). However, most seem to be generic functionality updates, such as Flash or SVG support. Unlike Firefox, few community-built tools to enhance or customize the browsing experience are available in IE8, which I found disappointing.

In general, IE8 is an improvement over IE7. Competition with Firefox seems to have resulted in a better product, but IE8 just needs a little more time to catch up.

About the Author

Will Kraft is a Web designer, technical consultant and freelance writer. He can be reached at [email protected]. Also, check out his blog at http://www.willkraftblog.com.

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