In 2001, Microsoft introduced Internet Explorer (IE) 6, which commanded a 93 percent market share in 2004. Five years and dozens of security patches later, Microsoft (MS) is releasing the first truly upgraded version of its Web browser in what might as well be decades in Web time. Why now? Experts point to several reasons. The most compelling is the upcoming release of MS's new Vista operating system, which apparently needed a new browser to make its debut extra booming. In addition, IE6 has fallen to an 86 percent market share after steadily losing percentage points over the past few years to indie browsers, primarily the innovative Firefox.
So what's new in IE7? Quite a bit, according to Microsoft. You can actually download the browser upgrade right here and check it out in its full glory. But first, a brief overview of what you can expect. (Hint: If you're a Firefox user, a lot of this will seem oddly familiar.) Some of the major changes include RSS compatibility, new security features, tabbed browsing and a redesigned toolbar.
The toolbar looks quite different in IE7 than in IE6. It has a more streamlined set of features. This time, instead of an extensive toolbar at the top of the browser page with lots of text-based categories to chose from, there are fewer divisions in tool functions (now represented by graphical icons) and more drop-down menus. There's also a search box built into the browser so you can perform a search from any Web page.
You can also more easily choose which default search engine you would like to use with that built-in search box. MSN Search is only one of the options, and picking a different one just requires a couple of clicks.
The IE7 toolbar has a search box built into the browser.
Another big change is tabbed browsing. At this point, IE was the only browser that didn't have this indispensable capability. Now, you can open multiple Web pages without opening new windows, meaning your desktop stays pretty clean even if you have 15 Web pages open at a time.
A nice IE7 innovation related to tabbed browsing comes in with the Bookmarks function. You can actually save a whole slew of tabs as a single Bookmark. So if you were doing some comparison shopping for an LCD monitor and had narrowed your choices down to four products at four different sites, you could save all of those tabs as a single bookmark called "LCD screens." When you click on it, all of those tabs would reappear. You can also zoom in on a tab to see what Web page it is without opening it and tile your tabs so you can see them (in mini form) all at once in a single browser view.
In keeping with the "Firefox clearly got it right" approach to redesign, IE7 comes with RSS compatibility. This means you can subscribe to feeds right through the browser toolbar. If you're on a site that provides a feed, the RSS icon in the toolbar lights up. Click on the icon and you can subscribe to the feed. IE7 will notify you of any relevant updates and deliver them to your screen with no prompting or page changes.
Learn about IE7's security upgrades on the next page.