Ready or Not, Internet Explorer 8 Is Headed Your Way PDF Print E-mail
Application Software - Microsoft
Written by Chris Smith   
Thursday, 29 January 2009 19:00

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Release Candidate 1 still has a few bugs, but IE8 promises improvements in performance, stability, and most importantly, security.

 

The Microsoft Internet Explorer team released Internet Explorer 8 Release Candidate 1 (RC1) this week, and plans call for releasing the final version during the second quarter of this year. System administrators will be making decisions soon about how to handle Microsoft's plans to distribute the browser as an Automatic Update (AU).

 

Microsoft is justifying labeling Internet Explorer 8 as a "high priority" download for XP users and for Windows Server 2003 SP2 shops by saying the security enhancements in the product are necessary. It's being labeled as "important" for Vista 32- and 64-bit users and for businesses running Windows Server 2008.

 

The IE team is struggling to address a number of nagging compatibility problems with IE8 while Microsoft goes up against the European Commission (EC)--again--which is complaining that bundling the browser with the Windows operating system is anti-competitive. The EC has plenty of teeth and has already levied fines against the company totaling many millions of dollars for its anti-trust activities and, later, for delays in addressing the EC's concerns. It may not come as a surprise to readers that the company developing the Opera browser, Opera Software ASA, is headquartered in Oslo, Norway, and has a distinct case of heartburn over Microsoft's practice of integrating its browser into the Windows operating system. Amidst a shrinking economy and a shrinking market share for its browser, times have been better in Redmond.

 

On that last note, we should point out that Internet Explorer, in all its versions, has slightly more than 68 percent of the global browser market, down from over 91 percent in 2004. The success of Firefox, Opera, Safari, and others has put a chink in Microsoft's browser armor. While some pundits have said that Internet Explorer has long been surpassed by these other browsers in features and security enhancements, Internet Explorer continues to be the browser of choice for developers making their Web sites browser-compatible and for corporations that need to use the Internet for communicating with financial and government organizations. In fact, many corporations have standardized on Internet Explorer 6 for their internal development. The world is changing, but it seems unlikely that Internet Explorer will go the way of Netscape, which once held 90 percent of the browser usage share but slipped to about 1 percent after AOL withdrew support in March 2008.

 

Some may wonder how close RC1 actually is to being a final version of IE8. In its current stage, the RC1 release is meant for testing by the general public, and Microsoft is encouraging everyone to download it, try it, use it in conjunction with their current applications, and report back to the company with any issues that need addressing. Dean Hachamovitch, general manager of the Internet Explorer group at Microsoft, says in a developers blog, "The IE8 product is effectively complete and done.... the technical community should expect the final IE8 release to behave as the Release Candidate does."

 

Whether the product is as far along as Hachamovitch would like it to be is another question, and comments from early adopters would indicate it still has some unacceptable problems with zooming, jumps in scrolling, disabling Vista sidebars, table rendering, and font size. Compatibility issues with applications such as Facebook, TurboTax, HP Smart Web Printing, Gmail, Roxio's Drive Letter Access, and even Server 2008 x64, as well as plug-ins like Skype and RealPlayer 11 (apparently fixed with Hotfix 957055) make one wonder if there won't be a Release Candidate 2 before the final version is sent out.

 

On the bright side, IE8 displays improvements in performance, reliability, and security and even has a mode to view Web sites developed for early-generation browsers that may not display well in IE8. On the performance side, it runs JavaScript faster, loads pages faster, and takes advantage of multi-core processors by using multi-threading techniques. IE8's "loosely coupled" architecture puts tabs in separate processes, making the browser more stable so that one process can crash without crashing the whole browser (Google's Chrome browser takes the same approach).

 

IE8 has what Microsoft calls Data Execution Prevention, which is designed to help reduce vulnerabilities with buffer overflows, often exploited to inject malicious code. The SmartScreen Filter, Cross Site Scripting (XSS) Filter, and Domain Highlighting are all intended to increase security. The SmartScreen Filter loads a warning page when the browser tries to visit an unsafe site. The XSS code attempts to detect malicious code on Web sites that have been compromised. And Domain Highlight displays the domain name of a URL, thereby exposing deceptive URLs, to help defeat phishing attempts. One feature that is getting much attention is InPrivate Browsing, which allows the user to launch a browser session that won't record any information. This is actually a security feature, despite what some people think it might be used for during lunch hour.

 

For administrators who wish to test IE8 against in-house applications before deploying and are worried users may succumb to Microsoft's encouragement to automatically update their browser with IE8, there is Microsoft's IE8 Blocker Toolkit. Similar to that for IE7, the Toolkit when configured will prevent the appearance of IE8 among "high priority" or "important" updates to prevent users from installing the browser through Windows Update (WU) and AU. It won't, however, prevent users from manually installing IE8 from the Microsoft Download Center. The Toolkit isn't necessary for companies that use update management solutions such as Windows Server Update Services or Systems Management Server 2003, which provide for managing updates through the WU and Microsoft Update (MU) channels.

 

There is always risk in an upgrade, and so far the IE8 beta and even RC1 have had issues. But ultimately, you have to decide if you are the type of person to embrace change or fear change. Windows 7 will perhaps force change whether we're ready for it or not as IE8 is bundled with it. If embracing change is a characteristic you think will serve your company's needs best in the future, then managing that change will require your best skills, perhaps some additional knowledge, and a certain amount of courage.


Chris Smith
About the Author:

Chris Smith was the Senior News Editor at MC Press Online from 2007 to 2012 and was responsible for the news content on the company's Web site. Chris has been writing about the IBM midrange industry since 1992 when he signed on with Duke Communications as West Coast Editor of News 3X/400. With a bachelor's from the University of California at Berkeley, where he majored in English and minored in Journalism, and a master's in Journalism from the University of Colorado, Boulder, Chris later studied computer programming and AS/400 operations at Long Beach City College. An award-winning writer with two Maggie Awards, four business books, and a collection of poetry to his credit, Chris began his newspaper career as a reporter in northern California, later worked as night city editor for the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, and went on to edit a national cable television trade magazine. He was Communications Manager for McDonnell Douglas Corp. in Long Beach, Calif., before it merged with Boeing, and oversaw implementation of the company's first IBM desktop publishing system there. An editor for MC Press Online since 2007, Chris has authored some 300 articles on a broad range of topics surrounding the IBM midrange platform that have appeared in the company's eight industry-leading newsletters. He can be reached at chriswriting@cs.com.

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