by September 6, 2005 0 comments



Right on the heels of our Browser Wars (page 124, July 2005), we’ve got to preview the all-new Internet Explorer 7. Both, consumers and industry watchers have high expectations from this release and this early in the Beta, Microsoft seems struggling to deliver. Features like tabbed browsing and integrated RSS readers have become a de-facto standard among browsers and this edition of IE is the last among the major browsers to add it. Sure, the MSN toolbar offered this recently, but it was woefully buggy and not at all intuitive to use. Another area where IE lagged behind other browsers was in security.

You can configure IE7 to automatically discover websites with RSS feeds

However, much of these security issues had to do with IE’s source code rather than user experience. MS seems to be getting into the race now to ramp up user-based security in IE and we will have to wait and see if the same code-security issues still plague the new browser.

Getting a copy
The browser beta is not available to the general public. You need to be an MS Partner or an MCP or an MSDN Universal Subscriber to get a copy. We got ours through our Universal subscription. The package is a 10 MB download. You need to have a legal copy of Win XP, with Service Pack 2, to proceed. 

Installation
During installation, the setup verifies whether you have a legal copy of Win XP by calling home your Windows product ID and does not install if it is not-you are given options to report your pirated copy to Microsoft. Then you have to restart your system for the change to take effect. IE7 can be uninstalled and you can do so by enabling the option to view updates in Add/Remove Programs and simply click on the Remove button against ‘Internet Explorer 7 Beta 1’.

Startup
The first thing you notice is the faster start-up speed. IE7 also has a new safe start-up mode-this mode will not load any of the ‘add-ons’ you may have installed. The safe mode can be accessed by right clicking on the icon on your desktop and selecting the second option there. You can have two instances of IE7 open, with and without the add-on, and each with its own set of tabs, even with identical Web pages. If you have the add-ons off and the page requires it (like the Flash plug-in) the page’s performance in that instance will suffer.

IE7 and FTP
If you use IE to browse FTP sites, there is a small problem with this Beta. When you key in the FTP URL in IE7’s address bar, it will open a Windows Explorer window with the FTP site-this window will work correctly. But, if you enter the same URL in the Run box, the URL is opened in IE7. It does not seem to like to login to the FTP site as anything except Anonymous and this is a serious problem if you want to manage your website.

New in settings
You have a few new settings available in IE7. There is a new section under the Advanced tab to configure tabbed browsing- you can enable/disable the feature and control how the tab behaves. Then, under content, you can configure how the new browser reacts to RSS feeds. Right next to the address bar, IE7 features a Firefox style search-box and the button next to it configures the box for you. At present, there is no way to add a new search engine to the list-you can only remove existing entries or set a different engine as the default.

You can configure IE7 to automatically discover websites with RSS feeds

Under security settings, you can get IE to ignore the file extension and consider the file content before it opens a file. This is important, given the large number of Trojans that invade our systems under false extensions. This didn’t appear to work in the beta. Further below that list, you can also enable and disable the Phishing and Pop-up blocker features. You can further configure Pop-up Blocker from the Privacy tab where there is a section (invoked by a button at the bottom) to do this.

Browser compliance — Acid 2
Around the time Opera 8 was released, the Acid 2 test (http://www.webstandards.org/act/acid2) went live. This is a test aimed at checking if browsers support features under HTML, XHTML, CSS and other standards. 

We checked IE7 against Acid 2 and it failed miserably. However, a quick test by clicking over to
http://dean.edwards. name/IE7 and running the tests there satisfied us that various features listed there were atleast supported-you need to click on the Remove button against each ‘IE7’ label on the pages there to check if IE7 supports it.

Anti phishing
IE7’s anti-phishing method works on a blacklist policy. When you turn on this feature and visit a website, you get an icon between the certificate and zone panels in the status bar. Click on this icon to get a menu and select ‘Check this website’. The URL is sent to a blacklist server and you get a message indicating if it was a phishing site.

RSS integration
When IE7 comes across an RSS feed pointer on a Web page, it enables the ‘RSS Feed’ icon on the toolbar. This is the one that resembles a sea shell. You can now view the feed by clicking on this icon-if more than one feed is found, you will get a drop-down menu listing all of them. The integrated RSS feed reader then gives you an option with an on-page menu to add it to your Favorites.

Search
IE7 bundles a Firefox style search box next to the address bar. But it has an issue at present where the search results page always opens in the active tab, replacing any content there. AOL, Ask Jeeves, Google, MSN and Yahoo are currently supported with MSN Search being the default.

General comments
Some other issues we noticed were the absence of a way to re-arrange the toolbars on the window to resemble IE6 or anything else that you are comfortable with. For instance, you cannot put the menu bar above the toolbars. Maybe this is in preparation for Windows Vista (earlier called Longhorn) where this is the way of life. If you’re using tools like nVidia’s NView that adds more capabilities to your application’s windows (such as resizing them to odd sizes and making them transparent at will), be prepared for a few surprises. 

IE7 does not like them at all-you will experience strange things like tabs turning into windows or even disappearing to mystery desktops (they will remain in the Task Manager, but you cannot find them). The Back and Forward buttons on the toolbar have been changed. It takes a while to get used to it. You can click on the buttons to get from the current page to the immediately previous or next (if there was one) pages as before. But if you want to travel further, you need to use the drop-down list between the Forward button and the address bar. This takes a while to figure out. And a browser is something no one wants to read the manual to understand. Head over to PCQuest Forums to see more screen shots and updated comments.

Features
in IE7
Expectation/Feature IE7
provides
Comment
Integrated
tabbed browsing
Yes Better than MSN
toolbar, but no way to save a tabbed session
Anti-phishing Yes Blacklist based
Integrated
RSS support
Feed recognition &
Reader
Quite good
XHTML,
CSS2 Support
(not mentioned) Failed the Acid 2 test
Transparent
PNGs
(not mentioned) Passed at Dean
Edward’s site
Stability High Exactly how do you
stress-test a browser?
Code-related
security
Unknown Too early to tell

So does it deliver?
Here’s a glance at what was expected and what it offers. Is it better than IE6? Definitely.
Is it better than its competition? Not yet at least.

Bottom Line: It’s too early in the beta to make a final judgment. Current features promise a lot but MS has a way of backtracking on features. But this one looks good. ¨

Sujay V Sarma

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