Sunday, August 28, 2005

Internet Explorer 7 a Tale of Two Programs

Microsoft’s new beta version of Internet Explorer is out and it is interesting to note that there are two versions. The first one is shipping with the Vista OS beta just released and is designed to be used with Vista. (See yesterdays post for my early impressions of Vista.) I didn’t have time to check out if it would also work with XP but it would be interesting to know if it would. The other Internet Explorer beta is designed for XP and it has slightly different features.

With Firefox breathing down their neck and their market share dropping quickly Microsoft decided to rush through a hurried up date to Internet Explorer for XP before they released Vista and it’s version of Internet Explorer. Lets hope that it isn’t such a rush job that security suffers. It’s hard to know how well a browser is constructed until it hits the net and the hackers and crackers have a shot at it. My prediction is that version 7 of Internet Explorer will have as many serious security problems as did version 5 and 6 and that doesn’t bode well for users.

So what’s up with version 7 of Internet Explorer? What new magic is Microsoft giving us this time?

Well it seems more than anything else Microsoft was feeling the pressure from Mozilla and Firefox with its growing market share. These last few months have found Microsoft feverishly trying to rework a tired threadbare Internet Explorer version 6 to hold off the competition from Firefox. Since the current version of Internet Explorer (version 6) wasn’t that much of an improvement or change over version 5 a change in Internet Explorer was long over do. Before Firefox Microsoft basically let Explorer coast along but Firefox’s competition forced them to take action on an update or risk further losses in market share and market share isn’t something Microsoft gives up easily.

So what is the verdict on the new program and does it offer any reason to move from version 6 to version 7.

Well the first thing that you notice is that it offers tabs just like Foxfire, Opera, and several other browsers. That is a nice feature as you can move around so much easer between sites you visit often by using tabs. I don’t think that it’s done as well as Firefox’s tab feature but it is pretty good. It’s just too bad that Microsoft was so stubborn about offering tabs before now.

Since Microsoft was only planning on updating Internet Explorer after Vista came out it shows just how desperate they were to keep their position. Pushing up the release date for the XP version is a risky decision for Microsoft. Can they get security right with a hurried rewrite of Internet Explorer is a question yet to be answered. Let’s hope so for everyone’s benefit.

We also see search being more visible with a new search box next to the address box in IE. Both Vista and Internet Explorer offer a much faster more complete search feature but it is hampered by not having the new file system that Microsoft promised. Search is definitely a hot button item right now with so many trying to corner the desktop search market that Microsoft felt that they had to improve search capacities, abilities, and speed. So far it looks like they did do that in this version of Internet Explorer as well as Vista.

Next is the addition of an RSS reader built into Internet Explorer. Once you get past the fact that Microsoft has changed the name from RSS feed to web feed you will find that it seems to work alright except for the fact that you have to check a feed source manually. Let’s hope that they fix that before the final version ships.

I for one don’t want to have to click on the my favorites tab and then click on the feed source to check for updates. That kind of defeats the purpose of using RSS and especially when you can have a tab for any site you visit often. With one simple click on a tab you can see the site anyway. Given the way Microsoft has RSS feeds setup I predict that most people will chose to use the tab feature to check for updates or get a real RSS reader. Maybe this is Microsoft’s plan to destroy RSS feeds since they can’t control them.

I also have some reservations about RSS feeds being directly tied to the browser knowing Microsoft’s track record with active x and other browser active components. Time will tell on this issue but I will bet that security issues will arise with RSS being a component of the browser. I can see the real possibility of active components getting through to the browser hidden in an RSS feed and being allowed to run on the system.

Microsoft is taking one direct security measure that is long over due by adding better protection against Phishing by adding a filter to help warn people about questionable sites. (The only down side is that this feature is currently only in the XP version of Internet Explorer version 7.) Even more interesting is the fact that the filter will also be able to check against a data base to block known Phishing sites. Sounds like a good idea lets hope it works as advertised. What we don’t need is people thinking that this filter is protecting them when it isn’t.

So what’s the verdict?

Well all in all it seems to be a good program. It’s got enough improvements in security and features to make it worth going to the trouble to update to Internet Explorer version 7 if Internet Explorer is still your choice in browsers. I just wish that it was also being offered to those who are still using Win98 and ME.

Many may wonder if Microsoft’s failure to make Internet Explorer 7 only run on XP or Vista is one more attempt to force people to update. I just hope that Microsoft remembers that most people who are running Win95/98 and many running ME can’t update because of hardware limitations. People using these older systems are often those who are on the fringes of computer use anyway. To use security to try to force people into updates to their OS isn’t something that Microsoft or anyone else should be doing.

Of course you could do what I’ve done and just install Firefox and get all the features that Internet Explorer version 7 will have except the Phishing filter and not have to wait. Firefox is here and available now with tabbed browsing, proven security and it’s not dependent on Microsoft.

It will also run on all versions of Windows from the older Windows 98 to Windows XP as well as Linux. That’s especially nice when you run a network with mixed operating systems and only want to have to support one browser. So if what you want in a browser is security, versitality, and features you don’t have to wait on Internet Explorer to update you can get Firefox today.

If you want to check out Firefox just head to their homepage;

No comments: