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.
IE7 Security and Compatibility
And finally, what new IE browser would be complete with security upgrades? Among other safety features, this version comes with default-disabled Active-X controls so your computer won't ever download something without your permission unless you tell it to; always-present address bars on every open window so there's no easy way to hide a true page URL; and a neat little color-coding system that warns you if the Web page you're visiting could be a phishing or spoof site.
If you go to a page that is on a third-party list of known phishing sites, the URL bar turns red. In the upcoming version of IE7 that will ship with the new Microsoft Vista operating system, the browser also offers parental controls and an "isolation" setting that prevents anything you do while browsing (inadvertently downloading something evil, for instance) from leaking into any other part of your computer, like your hard drive.
What's not new with IE7 is its compatibility. It still only runs with Windows operating systems (until Vista hits the shelves). IE7 provides no support for Linux or Mac machines. What else is same-old same-old? Security holes. One bug has already been attributed to IE7, and it was found literally hours after its release. However, Microsoft clarifies that the bug is actually in MS Outlook Express when used in conjunction with IE7 (and IE6, incidentally), not in the new browser itself. The bug allows outsiders to read information a user types using the browser.
If you don't download the new IE browser now, and you have your Windows machine set to automatically download updates, you'll be prompted to download IE7 the next time your computer decides to update itself. You can say no to the download if you don't feel like learning all those new tricks.
Firefox 2.0 is not nearly as different from Firefox 1.0 as IE7 is from IE6. Still, Microsoft may have to get right back to the drawing board to catch up with the quick innovations put forth by the smaller, more focused Mozilla team. Mozilla put out three versions of Firefox in the time it took Microsoft to put out one new version of IE.
For more information on IE7, Firefox and related topics, check out the links on the next page.