Facing a fresh attack from European regulators and with Google breathing down its neck, Microsoft could really do with something special from the next version of its Web browser. That would be one way to silence the critics who claim its dominance of the market has killed off innovation.
As it happens, there are plenty of good ideas in IE8 (a near-complete version of which was released today.) As often with Microsoft, though, some of these represent refinements of breakthroughs that were made by rivals rather than genuinely new ideas. The main new features in IE8 include:
Accelerator. Highlight a word on a Web page, right click, and then choose from a list of options that let you do things like conduct a search on the word, look it up on Wikipedia or find it on a map.
“Smart” address bar. Start typing a word into the address bar and it will suggest addresses you’ve been to before, based on the subject of the pages as well as their actual address.
Tabs. Microsoft may not have invented tabs, probably the biggest breakthrough in browser usability, but it is certainly working hard to make them easier to use. IE8′s advances include colour-coding and grouping of tabs that have something in common so they can be managed better; the ability to reopen tabs that have been closed; and “crash protection” so that if one tab freezes it doesn’t affect the others.
Find/ search. A prominent box to search for terms on a Web page could well be one of the most useful features of IE8.
“Porn mode”. Apple’s Safari already has a feature that lets you browse the internet without leaving a trail of the sites you’ve visited for others to see. In IE8, it’s called InPrivate browsing.
Clickjacking protection. A new security feature to prevent users from being fooled into clicking on what they think is a secure element of a Website, and entering sensitive information, when in fact rogue code is diverting their information to a hacker.
The “release candidate” version of IE8 (essentially what will be in the final version) can be downloaded here.