Microsoft Releases Final Internet Explorer 8

Company skipping release candidate 2

Internet Explorer 8 will be released to the Web as a final product on Thursday, according to Microsoft. The announcement marks an end to engineering fixes at the Release Candidate 1 stage, which Microsoft has been working on since January.

Some RC1 testers and Web developers had hoped to see an RC2 version of the Web browser released first, but Microsoft's Internet Explorer engineering team took a different view.

"In the case of IE 8, we were very much focused on quality all along the way," explained Amy Barzdukas, senior director of Internet Explorer, in a phone interview. "By treating the RC like it was a final release, we were able to bring out an RC that was much more complete in many ways."

IE 8 has been designed to be compatible with W3C recommendations, particularly the CSS 2.1 spec. Web developers can test IE 8 in its default "standards mode," but if there are problems, browsers can be compelled to use the "compatibility mode," which parses code like IE 7. Developers just need to add a bit of code to the Web site or page to specify the default mode.

Barzdukas noted that standards generally are "moving targets" with room for interpretation. Consequently, she said that Microsoft has submitted more than 7,200 test cases to the W3C to support the CSS spec and make it easier for developers to test to that standard.

Internet Explorer's track record on standards compliance has been a bone of contention for Web developers. Some Web developers have explained that they designed their sites to work with Internet Explorer, rather than standards, out of sheer frustration. However, Barzdukas claimed that "Internet Explorer 8 passes more of the CSS standards tests than does any other shipping browser."

IE 8 includes some new features that facilitate Web browsing tasks. For instance, "accelerators" provide menu options when a user selects text. Also, a "Web slices" feature let users track content in Web pages as that content gets updated in real time. However, as features get added to browsers, they can challenge the limits of what older browsers can do, Barzdukas said.

Enterprises typically need to determine if customized browser-based applications that ran on older versions of Internet Explorer will run on IE 8, so as to not break those applications. Barzdukas explained that it's a not problem if IE 7 already works in an enterprise. 

"If the enterprise is running IE 7 today, they're in great shape, because IE 8 renders intranet zone apps in IE 7's rendering engine by default," she said. "So it automatically converts to compatibility mode in intranet settings." IT pros can also override that behavior by using group policy settings, of which IE 8 has more than 1,400, Barzdukas said.

The real test for enterprises is determining if IE 8 will work with IE 6-based applications.

"If you are running IE 6 in the enterprise, then you do need to do some investigation to ensure that both the third-party line of business apps, the home-grown apps and any third-party apps that have been modified beyond recognition [will] work," Barzdukas explained. "And to that end, we have published on TechNet and MSDN a host of tools to help IT administrators be able to measure compatibility and provide guidance for how to bring any compatibility issues up to date."

Microsoft also recently provided a checklist for developers on compatibility issues at its IE blog here.

Reasons to move to IE 8 include speed, security and reliability. Barzdukas said that IE 8 is "70 to 80 percent faster than IE 7 and significantly faster than IE 6." She added that IE 8's malware protection "is really unrivaled by any other browser." Those protections include measures to thwart cross-site scripting attacks, clickjacking and an extended "SmartScreen" filter. SmartScreen, which was introduced in IE 7 as an anti-phishing measure, now helps protect users from known malware sites in IE 8, she said.

The new IE 8 release-to-Web browser runs on Windows Vista and Windows XP operating systems, as well as Windows Server editions from 2003 and beyond. The general public can download the IE 8 final version here.

Windows 7 Beta testers should use the version of IE 8 that came with the beta, as Microsoft customized that browser to work specifically with Windows 7 features.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.