Rather than offering developers a new API (application programming interface) for IE8 to take advantage of the new search bar skills, Microsoft will offer the tools via extensions to the open-source OpenSearch standard.
Microsoft has talked up other IE8 Beta 2 additions and enhancements in recent weeks, including several advanced privacy tools, which some have tagged as "porn mode" in a nod to the most obvious use of a private browsing session.
Last month, Microsoft also spilled the beans about new security measures it would introduce in IE8 Beta 2, including anti-malware protection and a filter it said would block the most common cross-site scripting attacks.
Pratt refused to name a release date for IE8, or even discuss a timeframe Microsoft is shooting for. The most specific he would get was to say the new browser would ship "sometime before the next release of Windows." Windows 7, the name Microsoft's given to Vista's successor, will launch in late 2009 or early 2010, Microsoft executives have promised.
Although other company managers have been quoted as saying that the final version of IE8 will launch this year, Pratt declined to confirm that, saying at one point those reports were just "speculation when we might launch" and later in the interview that 2008 "would fit within that [before the next release of Windows] timeframe."
Contrary to the first beta, today's release is aimed at a bigger audience; Beta 1 had carried the label "Developer Label," something that Microsoft wants to avoid this time around. "Beta 2 is suitable for all users," said Pratt, who encouraged both consumers and business users to download and try the browser. "In that respect, it's a much broader beta."
IE8 Beta 2 can be downloaded from its own page, or from Microsoft's Download Center.