Web & communication software

Hands-on With Microsoft's Internet Explorer 8 Beta

Microsoft released Internet Explorer 8 Beta 1 today, available via a download page. This beta is aimed squarely at Web site developers, but on Microsoft's IE8 blog, the company encourages anyone to try it out.

You might want to proceed with caution before trying IE8, though. I forged ahead and installed the beta--and I experienced more browser crashes during my hands-on than ever before. Prior to installing the IE8 beta, I had Internet Explorer 7 happily running along.

So far, I think I've identified an incompatibility between my Google and Yahoo Toolbars and IE8; that's my working hypothesis for now, at least. My colleague, Harry McCracken, has also installed the IE8 beta, and his only crashes came when he, too, iinstalled the Google Toolbar. Stay tuned for further reports the more we at PC World use IE8--I'm personally looking forward to giving WebSlices a spin.

New Features

Microsoft touts many new features in the IE8 beta--among them, Automatic Crash Recovery (ACR). As a regular user of both Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox, I applaud the inclusion of ACR. One can find many things to like about Firefox, but for me, I routinely come back to that browser's super-handy ability to resume a browsing session. I 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, I experienced plenty of browser crashes and hanging in my use of the IE8 beta, as installed on Windows XP with Service Pack 2 with Google and Yahoo Toolbars installed.

I began by installing the 14.4MB program file. After a system reboot, I could jump in and access Internet Explorer 8 Beta. Immediately, I was greeted by a welcome splash screen which prompted me to select the express settings or choose my own settings.

My "express settings" showed Google as my 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. I decided I 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 page, so you can map addresses and define words, for example.

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

The installation process identified three Firefox extensions on my computer, and prompted me 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: I was 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 I have installed); and it pointed me to shopping options, not comparable add-ons.

Browser Crashes and Recovers--Sort Of

I immediately ran into browsing difficulties as well. I fired up Movable Type to blog on something else for Today@PCWorld.com, and found some bizarre issues with how the page was drawn, and how text behaved inside a text entry box. Next thing I knew, a gray box popped up: "Internet Explorer has encountered a problem and needs to close. We are sorry for the inconvenience."

Without restarting the browser, I immediately noticed IE 8 tried to recover on its own: My five open tabs started to reconnect themselves. That IE8 tried to recover on its own is great, but then up pop another error message box detailing issues with Google toolbar, then another attempt at reconnecting to my five tabs, and then another, now familiar gray 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, I ended up having to end the program through Task Manager.

Restarting IE8 and a repeat run into Movable Type didn't solve anything. Nor did that complete shutdown and restart of IE8 yield one of the features I most want to see migrate from Firefox to Internet Explorer--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 your browsing session option, just like in Firefox--which gives me hope that maybe, in the final version of IE8, this feature will actually work properly.

Now that I have disabled my Google and Yahoo Toolbar and Internet Explorer 8 beta is not crashing with disturbing regularity, I will explore the new IE8 some more. Hopefully, I'll have better luck this time around--and be able to dig into WebSlices.

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