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Saturday, 30 May 2009

Internet Explorer 8: Review

When I was prompted to install IE8 I didn't hesitate a second. After all, if there had been a significant disadvantage to using the new version surely, I thought, someone would have made a noise in advance. Likewise I wasn't expecting any great improvement on IE7. It's just that I like to keep up-to-date when it comes to applications I use frequently, like my browser.

If things pan out as expected, the browser will become the main application for everything from word processing to spreadsheets. Cloud apps are on the horizon, as the success of Facebook attests.

I have tried Chrome and loved it. Not only does it seem faster, but the simplicity and uncluttered interface appealed to me. Unfortunately, Chrome is not supported by my bank, so it's a no-go option.

But IE8 takes a leaf out of Chrome's instruction manual, in the form of favourites that can be added to the favourites bar. This was an element of Chrome that sincerely attracted me. It means you can place a handy link to frequently-visited sites, right in front of you. No more browsing through a menu to access favourites.

Unlike in Chrome, however, you cannot rely entirely on the favicon to identify a site. IE8 does not allow you to delete all text associated with the favicon, as Chrome does. This means you cannot fit as many sites in the favourites bar, as you can with Chrome, where text is not requisite.

Another favourites bar item in IE8 is the 'web slice'. I installed a web slice at smh.com.au and use it infrequently. Having favourites in the favourites bar is far more useful. Web slices are slow: you need to wait until it refreshes if you haven't used it recently.

The whole point of web slices is that you can see some (underscore 'some') content from sliced pages in a menu thingy in your favourites bar, at the same time you are viewing another web page. This means you don't have to leave the current page to see content from a page that supports web slices. However, if you have that page set up as your home page or if a link to it is installed via the favourites bar, there's no great advantage here.

When you open a new tab in IE8 a pictorial Google menu appears. This is quite nice but, again, most of the pages you want to visit are already set up in your favourites bar. Nevertheless, this is quite a decent feature. It helps to remind you where you've been, and you may take the opportunity to revisit a page.

But the menu seems to slow down the process of opening a new tab. I've timed the lag and it can be as long as 20 seconds. That's a long time to wait for a new tab to open.

IE8 also offers a range of 'add-ons' which are small tools that integrate your browser in a variety of ways with popular websites. However, I haven't seen the point in these so I don't use them at all. I mean, if I want to post a story to LinkedIn I'll just go to that site and post it. I don't need an 'accelerator' to perform all the occasional actions that might occur to me.

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