First Look: Internet Explorer 8 beta

This beta release of Microsoft's browser sports some cool new features -- but it's still very beta

Easier-to-identify domains

IE8 introduces some smaller features that may not be earthshaking, but that can be useful. For example, some URLs are so long and complex that it can be tough to immediately decipher which domain you're currently visiting. In IE8's address bar, only the domain (for example, computerworld.com.au ) is black; everything else is gray. That way, you can see immediately where you are.

New safety filter

Microsoft is touting a new Safety Filter in IE8 which it claims is an improvement over IE7's Phishing Filter. The Safety Filter, according to the company, protects not only against phishing attacks, but against malware as well.

For example, this new Safety Filter issues a warning when you visit a Web site with malicious software. Since I wasn't able to test this feature at this time, we'll have to take Microsoft's word on this for now.

Crash recovery

Internet Explorer 8 can now do what Firefox has been able to do for a very long time -- recover from crashes, and then restore the session or tab that crashed. So after IE8 crashes, or an individual tab crashes, you'll have the option of restoring it.

Beware of crashes

Speaking of crashes -- IE8 is beta, and a beta designed for developers, so if you decide to try it be aware that it's not stable.

Each time I clicked on the Favorites icon to open up the Favorites sidebar, IE crashed. The first time I did this, the effect was so serious that IE8 then crashed every time I tried to open it, even after rebooting. I used System Restore to revert my system to its pre-IE8 state, but IE7 would no longer work -- when I launched it, IE7 would open, and then simply vanish. No error message, no asking whether I want to send an error report -- it simply disappeared.

(Note: Rather than using System Restore, it would have been a better idea for me to use the Add or Remove Programs Control Panel applet; that most likely would have been safer.)

I re-installed IE8, and found that it worked again -- sort of. It crashed every time I clicked on the Favorites icon, or tried to open the sidebar for any other reason. I could restart it each time, and it would work fine -- until I tried to open the sidebar again.

My system is not unique; other users report similar behavior. In a blog about the problem, two people said they had comparable issues. One person's IE crashed every time he opened the sidebar, the other had problems when he tried to organize his Favorites.

The bottom line

Should you download IE8 yet? Unless you're a Web developer, or someone who simply has to have the latest version, you'd be better off waiting. It's still unstable -- as illustrated by the way IE8 crashed every time I tried to use the Favorites sidebar feature. In addition, the browser's most intriguing new features --- Activities and WebSlices --- aren't particularly useful at this point, because there simply isn't enough related content.

As the beta progresses through its cycles, though, I'll have more reviews, to let you know when it's safe to give it a whirl.

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