ie8 overview
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We’ve been receiving quite a few requests from our readers wanting to know what we think about Internet Explorer 8 Beta 1, and whether it is worth the upgrade. I downloaded and installed it shortly after it was released yesterday, and the total installation time on my Vista machine took around 4 or 5 minutes. There were absolutely no problems for me upgrading to IE 8 from IE 7.

–Performance–

Everything in Internet Explorer 8 seems a lot more responsive than in Internet Explorer 7: tabs open faster, pages render more quickly, and the “Quick Tabs” works almost instantaneously. Really, I’m not exaggerating the difference at all. Ashley and I have the exact same laptops, and we wanted to do a side-by-side comparison of how long it took to load our site. The difference was like night and day… Internet Explorer 8 loaded our site at least twice as fast.

I’ve gotten a handful of emails already that have been wanting me to run the SunSpider JavaScript test on Internet Explorer 8. Previously it failed miserably coming in a very distant last place. Here’s how it stacked up against the latest Firefox 3 nightly build (the lower amount of time is better):

  1. Firefox 3 Nightly (03/05/2008 build): 6624.2ms
  2. Internet Explorer 8 (Beta 1): 14302.0ms

That’s more than five times better than Internet Explorer 7 in our previous tests! So it looks as though there has been substantial changes under-the-hood in Internet Explorer 8 to make it perform better. The best thing is that the speediness doesn’t show just in the numbers. I can almost guarantee that as soon as you start using Internet Explorer 8 Beta 1 you’ll see a noticeable difference.

–Features–

I’m not going to just list out the features here because I did that yesterday. Instead there are two things that I really wanted to comment on. The first is the new Activities that was introduced into Internet Explorer 8. I didn’t think that these were really anything special, but I’ve actually come to love them after just a few minutes of using the browser.

When you highlight some text a little green arrow will appear above your selection. If you click on that arrow you’ll see a list of all your installed Activities that you can choose from. This is a quick way for you to translate text, map an address, define a word, and much more:

ie8 activities button

Microsoft has a site setup where users can add more Activities, but given that the browser is so new there are only a handful of them available.

The one other thing that I really like is something Firefox 3 was (or maybe still is) supposed to have when it is released. It’s a domain highlighting feature that makes users more aware of the domain that they are viewing by graying out portions of the URL. Here’s what it looks like for one of our articles:

ie8 domain highlight

This will help users avoid phishing scams that are located at obscure domains disguised to look like a legitimate one, such as paypal.com.example.com.

–The Price of Standards–

Many of us applauded Microsoft for making the browser more standards compliant out-of-the-box, but I’m already starting to see the effects of the change. At first glance I have found that nearly every site I visit has some sort of rendering glitch in Internet Explorer 8. Our site, for example, had problems properly positioning the footer. We had to insert this code into the head section of the HTML on our site:

<meta http-equiv="X-UA-Compatible" content="IE=7" />

This forces Internet Explorer 8 to render the site the same way that Internet Explorer 7 does, and is a great temporary fix until you get the time to make the necessary changes. Our site is far from the only one that has problems. Here are some of the others that we’ve noticed:

  • CNN.com has some video thumbnails that float off to the right side.
  • Yahoo.com has a toolbar underneath the search box that is not aligned properly.
  • News.com has a few issues in the upper part of their site around their search box.
  • Yahoo Mail just pops up with error messages and is non responsive when you try to do just about anything.

You can quickly correct these issues by forcing IE 8 to emulate IE 7 using the “Emulate IE7″ button on the toolbar. You’ll need to restart the browser for the changes to become active, but it should solve most of the problems.

–Overview–

Overall I would have to say that this is a great update for Internet Explorer, but I don’t think Microsoft has done enough to pull users away from Firefox and Opera. There’s nothing that really leaves me in awe, but I do have to say that the performance improvements definitely deserve to be applauded.