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Internet Explorer has recently been losing market share to upstarts like Mozilla's Firefox, Apple's Safari, and Google's Chrome beta, but Microsoft hopes to reverse the tide with Internet Explorer 8, which is due out this summer. My conclusion after a close examination of the four browsers: As matters stand, IE 8 seems likely to be the easiest to deploy and maintain over a large or small network.
In addition, IE 8's capabilities will either match or exceed those of the other browsers. Here's a comparative look at some of the key features to be included in IE 8, and a discussion of why companies may be better off using IE 8 than one of the other browsers.
Easy to Deploy
IE 8 appears to be especially well suited for companies that want to adopt a browser across large network. In particular, Microsoft has equipped IE 8 with built-in deployment features, based on the company's existing deployment and update platforms. In contrast, Mozilla relies on third-party Firefox client customization add-ons such as FrontMotion Firefox MSI, CCK Wizard, or FirefoxADM; and Safari and Chrome don't as yet offer network-wide client customization deployment options at all.
Microsoft has been hyping IE 8's ability to switch automatically to IE 7 compatibility mode when necessary. But that's because IE versions 7 and earlier often didn't follow Web standards, and this failure to conform forced Web developers to code their pages differently in order to render on IE. Once deployed across a network, IE 8 won't break corporate intranet: Internal or intranet Web sites will automatically default to IE 7 compatibility so that businesses won't have to rewrite their inward-facing corporate pages. Similarly, Web surfing or external browsing in IE 8 will default to the new "standards mode" as well. Since Firefox, Chrome, and Safari have more or less conformed to Web standards over the years, they don't require this compatibility mode.
Taking a page from Google Chrome, IE 8 will offer built-in tab crash protection. In the event of a page fault, only the affected tab and not the entire browser will crash. The current versions of Firefox and Safari lack this isolation feature. Firefox will, however, restore the entire browser session after a browser crash; a similar feature in Safari called 'Reopen All Windows from Last Session' lets you restore previous browser windows whether or not the session ended with a crash.
Though Microsoft took its time before embracing tabbed browsing, IE 8 is set to make significant strides in this area. As links on a page open new tabs, color-coded related tabs appear alongside the original. Chrome, Firefox, and Safari do not offer this capability. On the other hand, Chrome, Safari, and Firefox 3.1 can pull a tab out of the browser and create a new, stand-alone browser session; IE 8 won't be able to do this. IE 8 will offer some nice features within a tab, though: When you open a new tab, the browser will give you the option to reopen a closed tab or to restore your previous browsing session, among other choices.
Also unique to IE 8 will be "accelerators"--shortcuts to services that open within a given Web page. Instead of cutting and pasting to another tab, you may simply highlight the text and click the blue Accelerator icon to open blog, e-mail, map, search, and even translation services on the page you're currently viewing. This page-within-a-page feature is unavailable as yet from Firefox (without add-ons), Chrome, or Safari.
Web Slices, another unique feature, is designed to monitor a specific section of a Web page--a weather radar image, say, or an eBay auction--without requiring you to revisit the page. You'll simply select the page element and drag it to your toolbar to view as needed. Companies may be able to use Web Slices for intranet messaging and access to company services.
Mozilla dubbed its address bar in Firefox 3 the 'Awesome Bar' because it displays URL suggestions drawn from browser history and bookmarks. IE 8 will have its own awesome bar, with the unique ability to delete these suggestions--something Firefox doesn't offer. Deleting suggestions may help prevent over-the-shoulder snooping and assuage privacy concerns regarding a shared computer.