With the kick off last week of beta testing for Microsoft's next major browser update, users – developers, at least – will get their first chance to check out its new features.
Microsoft released what it calls the Internet Explorer 8 Beta 1 (IE 8) developer preview at the company's MIX08 conference for Web developers and designers in Las Vegas.
For developers, the update provides several new capabilities, including built-in debugging support that's compatible with Visual Studio 2008 and .NET Framework 3.5. It will also focus on providing improved interoperability with Web standards than previous versions.
"They're reaching out to developers [by] providing tools that enable developers to do a lot of things more easily and make more sites more quickly," Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies, told InternetNews.com.
Among the new features for end users in IE 8 is the ability to subscribe to the content on just a part of a Web page, not the entire page, with updates when that part changes – for instance, a current weather report. Microsoft calls this feature "WebSlices," and it functions similar to other data feeds.
"WebSlices enable developers to reach beyond their pages and deliver directly to their users the content that they care about the most," IE general manager Dean Hachamovitch said during the opening keynote speech at MIX08.
IE 8 will also add a feature Microsoft calls "Activities." These are services that third-party developers can write to provide common functions to a user surfing the Web. In one scenario, a user might click on an address on a Web page, popping up a menu of services such as displaying a map to that location or translating text into a different language.
"I think of it as a context menu," said Kay. "You have little services that relate to objects … [if you have a street address] do you want to know how to get there? It's a richer way to integrate sites into a browser," Kay added.
"Activities and WebSlices are two examples of how developers can easily build innovative experiences that reach beyond their site," Hachamovitch said.
Other features for end users include an updated Favorites bar and phishing filter, as well as automatic crash recovery.
Perhaps the most important change for both developers and end users, however, will be better compliance with Web standards. Microsoft officials have made a concerted effort to emphasize their intent to comply with Web standards as fully as possible.
"The biggest theme [in IE 8] is interoperability," Kay said.
IE 8 includes what has been referred to as "super standards" mode – what the company claims is the best achievable compatibility with existing Web standards.
At MIX08, in fact, to show off IE 8's standards support, Hachamovitch demonstrated the same Web page using the Firefox and Safari browsers and then showed how IE 8's new mode provides the same view of the page. Standards support includes support for Cascading Style Sheets 2.1 and HTML 5.
The company did not say when beta testing will be expanded to include end users, but has said recently that IE 8 is planned for release by the end of the year.
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