Couple of days ago I played a bit with the brand new and not so shiny Microsoft Internet Explorer 8. As this is the first Beta release it is mainly meant for designers and developers so they can get their clocks synchronized with Microsoft. For me as a xhtml-css-javascript abuser the most interesting thing was the new standard mode rendering engine which was already main topic in couple of discussions.

For the review I used Microsoft Server 2003 SP2 because this was what I had installed under VMware virtual machine and I wanted a quick way to revert if I don’t like it.

Downloading – only 14MBs… done

Installing – easy and relatively fast… done


On the first run you will be encouraged to choose between express settings or to manually set search engines, activities providers and other options. As IE newbie I selected express settings.

Photo 1,2

My first expressions were:

  • Hey there is now a bookmark toolbar – great
  • There is big blue button “Emulate IE7” – strange

Photo 3

Ok let’s check the new features:

1. Activities:

Photo 8,14,15

Activities are contextual services that provide quick access to external services from any webpage. Activities typically involve one of two types of actions

Nothing exciting about this – just sending the selected string to some “Activity provider” via the right click context menu. Still it saves the users couple of clicks and copy-paste operations. For example while I was browsing a page I highlighted the word “violin” and using the Ebay Activity provider was able to find violins on sale. Something that will be quite useful is to have activity provider which can compare prices at different online shops.

2. WebSlices:

Photo 12,13,11

Web sites can expose portions of their page as a WebSlice that users can subscribe to and bring that content with them on their links bar wherever they are on the web. Users receive update notifications when the content changes.

Generally the idea is not that revolutionary as it sounded at first. Using special markup the website developer/designer can give the end user the ability to automaticly check for updated pieces of the website. It is like rss feeds with pictures. However for both Activities and WebSlices the end user has to “install” the corresponding provider/website slice.

3. Internet Explorer Developer Toolbar

Photo 4,5,6

Now IE comes with dev toolbar preinstalled (yeee) and extended. By first expressions Microsoft team have given more attention to Javascript tools. The bad news is that IE dev toolbar is still far away from Mozilla Firefox FireBug extension. From my quick walkthrough it I found out that you can enable/disable applied CSS styles but can not edit them which is something quite useful.

4. Speed

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As usually I used my trusty companion when it comes to measuring Javascript performance –
For comparison I used the same testing environment just before installing IE8 where I had Internet Explorer 6 and the news are quite good. On most tests it behaves almost twice as fast as IE6. There is still room for optimizations (comparing to other browsers) but it is good to see MS are doing efforts in this direction. In the official site it is said that they have also improved rendering time – something that is pretty subjective and hard to test.

5. Rendering Engine

Photo 9,10

After visiting couple of sites (including google maps) I understood why there is such big blue button “Emulate IE7″(second screenshot was done in emulated mode). From the screenshot above you will see how “Internet Explorer 8 standards mode” mess things up (first screenshot). I will need much more investigation but I can not understand how “Cascading style sheets 2.1 compliance” can break so much things – even Yahoo’s home page has displacements. I’m sure Microsoft will fix lots of things until final version, but for sure I will have to re-evaluate my CSS/XHTML knowledge before coding IE8 friendly sites.

I wish only good to IE8 because after all there will be billions who will use it.
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