Microsoft Internet Explorer 8.0 beta

Microsoft released Internet Explorer 8.0 (IE 8.0) beta 1 today, available via a download page. This beta is aimed squarely at Web site developers, but on Microsoft's IE 8.0 blog, the company encourages anyone to try it out.

You might want to proceed with caution before trying IE 8.0, though. We forged ahead and installed the beta – and we experienced more browser crashes during our hands-on than ever before. Prior to installing the IE 8.0 beta, we had IE 7.0 happily running along.

So far, we think we've confirmed a known issue between my Google and Yahoo Toolbars and IE 8.0. Our colleague, Harry McCracken, has also installed the IE 8.0 beta, and his only crashes came when he, too, installed the Google Toolbar.

New features

Microsoft touts many new features in the IE 8.0 beta – among them, Automatic Crash Recovery (ACR). As a regular user of both IE and Mozilla Firefox, we applaud the inclusion of ACR. One can find many things to like about Firefox, but for us, we routinely come back to that browser's super-handy ability to resume a browsing session. We tend to have multiple windows or tabs open at once, and nothing is worse than trying to have to figure out where, exactly, you were on various Web sites.

According to Microsoft, ACR can recover browser tabs to 'prevent the loss of work and productivity in the unlikely event of the browser crashing or hanging'. Unfortunately, we experienced plenty of browser crashes and hanging in our use of the IE 8.0 beta, as installed on Windows XP with Service Pack 2 with Google and Yahoo Toolbars installed.

We began by installing the 14.4MB program file. After a system reboot, we could jump in and access IE 8.0 beta. Immediately, we were greeted by a welcome splash screen which prompted us to select the express settings or choose our own settings.

Our 'express settings' showed Google as our search provider; and activity providers as Windows (Blog with Windows Live Spaces, Map with Live Maps, Define with Encarta, Translate with Windows Live, Send with Windows Live Hotmail); the safety filter, which protects against malware and keeps data 'safer' from fraudulent Web sites and phishing scams, was set to 'on' (recommended).

Selecting 'choose my settings' opened up a slew of options. We decided we wanted to select from a list of search providers, and to go online to add more activity providers – which, in Microsoft's definition, enhance your ability to work with text that you select on a Web, so you can map addresses and define words, for example.

Next, we got to choose whether we wanted IE as our default browser, and if so, then choose the favourites, feeds, and extensions you want to import from Firefox (and favourites and feeds from Safari).

The installation process identified three Firefox extensions on our computer, and prompted us to go online and view similar IE add-ons – which then opened a new tab to view add-ons. Sadly, this feature failed miserably on the beta: we were shunted into a screen that auto-populated a search for Yahoo! Toolbar and Veoh Browser plug-in (and not just for the other Firefox extensions we have installed); and it pointed us to shopping options, not comparable add-ons.

Browser crashes and recovers – sort of

We immediately ran into browsing difficulties as well. We fired up Movable Type and found some bizarre issues with how the page was drawn, and how text behaved inside a text entry box. Next thing we knew, a grey box popped up: 'Internet Explorer has encountered a problem and needs to close. We are sorry for the inconvenience'.

Without restarting the browser, we immediately noticed IE 8.0 tried to recover on its own: our five open tabs started to reconnect themselves. That IE 8.0 tried to recover on its own is great, but then up popped another error message box detailing issues with Google toolbar, then another attempt at reconnecting to the five tabs, and then another, now familiar grey box popped up: 'Internet Explorer has encountered a problem and needs to close. We are sorry for the inconvenience'.

Repeat. Repeat. After four rounds of this, we ended up having to end the program through Task Manager.

Restarting IE 8.0 and a repeat run into Movable Type didn't solve anything. Nor did that complete shutdown and restart of IE 8.0 yield one of the features we most wanted to see migrate from Firefox to IE – to resume your browsing session on multiple tabs where you left off before being an untimely surfing interruption. That said, a later shutdown/restart did provide the 'resume browsing session' option, just like in Firefox – which gives us hope that maybe, in the final version of IE 8.0, this feature will work properly.

Now that we disabled the Google and Yahoo Toolbar and IE 8.0 beta isn't crashing with such disturbing regularity, we will explore the new IE 8.0 some more. Hopefully, we'll have better luck this time around – and be able to dig into WebSlices.

The Final Word

Promising first beta for what's billed as a more standards-compliant version of Microsoft's Web browser. Just don't forget to switch off Google Toolbar for this first public preview.

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Melissa J. Perenson

PC World (US online)
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