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FAQ: Meet Microsoft's new Internet Explorer

All you need to know on the latest beta release of Internet Explorer 8.

With all the hubbub surrounding Google Inc.'s rollout of Chrome last week nearly lost in the buzz was the release the week before of Internet Explorer 8 (IE8) Beta 2.

Google stealing the browser show couldn't have made Microsoft happy. Unlike other browser makers, including Opera Software ASA and Mozilla, which at least pretended to welcome Chrome to the race, Microsoft didn't even mention Google or the new browser by name in the statement it issued. "The browser landscape is highly competitive, but people will choose Internet Explorer 8 for the way it puts the services they want right at their fingertips," said Dean Hachamovitch, IE's general manager.

But will they?

A lot's riding on IE8. Microsoft's share of the browser market continues to slip. Last month, it fell by nearly a percentage point, to 72.2 percent, according to date from Net Applications Inc. A year ago, IE accounted for 79 percent of all browsers.

Clearly, IE isn't going away. But the newest beta, likely the last before Microsoft declares IE8 ready to ship, will be a crucial test. Naturally, we have questions, and the answers, needed to get you going with this latest browser out of Redmond.

Where do I get IE8 Beta 2?

You can download the beta from Microsoft's IE8 page, which sports separate links for Windows XP, Vista, Windows Server 2003, and Windows Server 2008.

IE8 will not be offered for versions of Windows older than XP, nor for non-Microsoft operating systems.

Will Microsoft push it to me via Automatic Updates?

Yes, but only if you're running Windows XP or Windows Server 2003, already have IE8 Beta 1 on your machine and have switched on Windows Update's Automatic Updates.

Microsoft has said it will throw the switch for Vista and Windows Server 2008 users as well, but has not set a timetable.

What language?

Out the gate, IE8 Beta 2 is available in English, German, Japanese and Simplified Chinese.

At some point, Microsoft will post localized versions for Windows XP and Windows Vista, 32-bit only for both, in Arabic, traditional Chinese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Italian, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish and Turkish. The company hasn't set a timetable for those editions, however.

What's in it for me?

Computerworld reviewer Preston Gralla came to praise, not bury, IE8 when he said. "The beta is still rough in some places, but for anyone interested in seeing the next big browser release, it's stable, useful and well worth the download."

Among the features Gralla called out in last weeks' review are:

  • Enhanced tabs functionality.
  • Improved navigation, especially to previously-visited sites via a revamped address bar.
  • Advanced privacy controls that includes a private-browsing mode (often dubbed "porn mode" by the puckish).
  • "Accelerator" mashup tools and "WebSlices" data feeds.
  • Crash recovery.
  • Suggested searches.

Naturally, Microsoft touts a longer list in the Fact Sheet released as part of the Beta 2 PR effort and in the marketing materials on the IE8 site.

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How fast is IE8 Beta 2?

According to some quick JavaScript benchmark tests, not fast at all.

Here are the numbers from SunSpider, the benchmarks built by WebKit, the open-source project responsible for the browsing engine used by both Apple's Safari and Google's Chrome. (Note: IE8 Beta 2 won't run either Google's V8 benchmarks or Mozilla's Dromaeo suite without interrupting the tests with one or more error messages noting that "A script on this page is causing Internet Explorer to run slowly.")

In SunSpider, smaller numbers are better.

The bottom line: Chrome is more than three times faster than IE8 Beta 2, and Firefox is over twice as fast.

I've heard IE8 wants more memory than other browsers. What's the story?

That talk is true, according to Craig Barth, the chief technology officer at Devil Mountain Software, a Florida develop that markets a Windows performance test utility to enterprises.

Barth ran IE8 Beta 2 and rivals IE7 and Firefox 3.0 through a 10-site test, loading each site into a separate tab, then loading links from those sites into additional tabs before tallying up the memory hit.

IE8 Beta 2 grabbed 380MB on the 2GB-equipped Windows Vista test machine, while IE7 snatched only 250MB and Firefox 3.0.1, the most-recent version of the open-source browser, took just 159MB.

"IE8 is epically porcine," said Barth last week in an interview. " Microsoft has gone to epic levels of bloat."

Later in the week, Barth reran the 10-site test to include Google's Chrome, but reached the same conclusion: IE8 Beta 2 consumed more memory than Chrome, IE7 or Firefox.

(See Google's Chrome vs. IE8)

How do I get rid of IE8?

You can boot IE8 Beta 2 off the PC using the usual Windows uninstall process. In Windows XP, for example, choose "Settings/Control Panel" from the Start menu, then launch "Add or Remove Programs." Check the "Show updates" box at the top, scroll until you locate "Windows Internet Explorer 8 Beta 2," then click on the "Remove" button. The process is similar in Vista. Windows reverts to IE7, with any previously-added security updates still in place.

Where do I go for IE8 support?

Microsoft's set up free phone support for IE8 Beta 2. Staffed from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. PDT Monday through Friday, and 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. PDT on weekends, the toll-free line is available only to North American customers and will handle questions about installation, set-up and usage, according to Microsoft's support site. Also available: An FAQ and a user-to-user newsgroup.