Internet Explorer 8 review

The final version of Internet Explorer 8 has finally landed. Has Microsoft done enough to reel the browser defectors back in?

Taking its time

It's not all about the features though these days with cloud computing at the end of everyone's fingertips it's important to be able to keep up. Unfortunately, in our SunSpider JavaScript benchmark, IE8 still lagged behind the rest of the pack.

For the record, it was Safari 4 beta that topped the chart at 1.05 seconds, Chrome second at 1.12 seconds, Firefox 3.1 Beta 3 at 1.75, Opera at 4.08 and IE8 trailing at 5.53 seconds. In use though, IE8 didn't feel dreadfully slow, even when accessing Google Docs.

Aside from speed, compatibility is important and for Microsoft has very publicly stated that it is now rendering as close as possible to open standards rather than purely to its own. However, as many sites have been designed with IE7 in mind, a broken page icon to the right of the address bar is present, which when clicked, re-renders the page in the older format.

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Keeping it stable

Reliability is also key and Microsoft says the new version is more stable thanks to each tab being isolated from that other, so a crash in one will be less likely to bring the whole browser down. Certainly during our testing of the final version we experienced no crashes.

A key area though, and perhaps the most important will be whether Microsoft can keep IE6 secure enough long term with IE7 it's done a lot better than with the horrendously sieve-like IE5 and IE6 but it's still got to keep those patches regular.

Anti-phishing features are also built-in and by checking against a central database a site will be red-listed' with a message warning the site if unsafe will be shown against a red background.

Streamlining installations

IT professionals will also appreciate that being able to create custom installations, which can be deployed using enterprise distribution systems such as Active Directory. The installer will pull down the latest update automatically. IE8 can also be slipstreamed into OS images making it far quicker to deploy IE8 on Windows XP, which many companies are still using.

Conclusion

Overall, Internet Explorer 8 is an impressive package, and while it lacks the raw speed of Chrome, the flashiness of Safari 4, and the extendibility of Firefox, it does offer reliability and some good features, which could be enough to win it some fans. It's certainly the best version of Internet Explorer in a long time, and Firefox fanboys are going to have to face up to the fact that IE is no longer a dog on which to pour unremitting scorn.

That said, there's not yet anything here to make Firefox users want to jump ship, though once a bit of spick and polish has been added, particularly to the addons it's going to make it harder to persuade the unconverted to switch away from IE.

In that sense, Mozilla and the others have done their job fantastically forcing Microsoft to up its ante to produce a better featured, faster and more reliable browsing experience for the masses. Microsoft should get some praise at least, simply for paying attention.

Verdict

The final version of Internet Explorer 8 is here and the good news is that its Microsoft’s latest browser is the best one yet. The feature list is comprehensive and it seems solid and reliable. The only major downer is that it’s slower than the competition. There’s little chance of defectors returning to the IE fold, but if the community behind it grows it’ll be harder than ever to get fence sitters to move.

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