Two New Internet Explorers
Along with Beta 1 of Windows Vista, Microsoft has produced not one but two beta versions of Internet Explorer 7--one for Windows XP, and one in the Vista beta. The most exciting (and long overdue) innovation in both is tabbed browsing, which lets you open multiple Web pages in one browser window. You switch between the pages by clicking tabs in the IE 7 window. (The free MSN Search Toolbar adds tabs to IE 6.) Tabs have long been in Opera, and they're an attraction in Mozilla Firefox.
Another nice addition in the IE 7 betas is a search text box positioned to the right of the Address bar (see above). Microsoft has also improved IE's printing capabilities with a good Print Preview function that lets you resize the page prior to printing.
Microsoft's promised support for RSS feeds--which are confusingly called both "Feeds" and "Web Feeds"--appears in rudimentary form as a button with radio waves emanating from a point. The grayed-out graphic turns red on sites that have correctly tagged RSS feeds; clicking a feed displays its contents as a Web page. You can subscribe to the feed by adding it to your Favorites, but there's no mechanism for knowing when a feed has been updated: You have to keep checking the bookmarked page.
IE 7 for Windows XP (but not for Windows Vista) also contains the first iteration of a new Phishing Filter that identifies suspected and confirmed phishing sites (Web sites that try to get your personal information by masquerading as well-known legitimate sites such as those for PayPal or a bank). Suspected sites are identified based on their behavior; confirmed sites are those that appear on a constantly updated database that Microsoft is maintaining.
The company originally planned to upgrade IE only when it shipped Vista. But clearly in response to the growing popularity of Firefox and endless IE 6 vulnerability disclosures, Microsoft chair Bill Gates announced in February that a stand-alone version of IE 7 would be available by year's end for Windows XP with Service Pack 2 and XP Professional X64 Edition.
IE 7 isn't without annoyances. For example, the Forward and Back buttons are easy to find on the top left; but the Home button is on the menu bar, below the tabs, and the Refresh button is now to the right of the Address bar (it turns into a stop button while the page loads). Microsoft will likely address these issues before IE 7 ships.