A lot is riding on the success of Internet Explorer 8. Microsoft lost 7 percent browser market share in the past year because of users' unhappiness with Internet Explorer 7 and the emergence of the Firefox and Safari browsers.
Slow installation and the addition of tabbed browsing and other features that were already available in Firefox, Safari and Google's Chrome were just some of the criticisms lobbed at IE7.
IE8 - in release candidate mode since January - will likely be the target of similar copy-cat accusations because current browsers offer many of the same navigation features.
That said, IE8 does offer some cool new bells and whistles. Here are seven new and enhanced IE8 browsing features that Microsoft hopes will restore Internet Explorer's market position and cool the buzz on the flourishing Firefox.
Web Slices keep you up-to-date on information that changes frequently such as stock quotes, sports scores and weather forecasts. Web Slices take such information from Web sites that are compatible with the Web Slice functionality and delivers it to your Favorites bar. So instead of continually going to the weather section of your favorite news site, for example, you can opt to be alerted when the forecast changes.
When new information is updated, the Web Slice section on your Favorites bar is highlighted. When you click on it, you see a preview of the latest information, which you can clickthrough to go to the full site for greater detail.
Not all sites have Web Slice functionality, but if they do, slice-enabled elements of their sites will show a green icon when you hover over them with your mouse. A few popular sites that allow Web Slices in IE8 RC1 are eBay, Digg and Facebook. Microsoft is currently working with partners to create more Web Slices.
Microsoft has been accused of stealing the Tabbed browsing idea from Firefox, which was the first browser to popularize Tabs. In IE8, Microsoft is trying to broaden and organize the tabbed browsing concept with Tab Groups.
Even with Tabs, it's easy to get lost amid too many open windows. Tab Groups organize tabs in relation to one another. For instance, tabs that you open from the same site are placed next to each other and marked with the same color. The tabs can then be closed or moved as one unit.
Compatibility View Button
On sites that are not compatible with IE8, images and text are all out of whack. The Compatibility View button in IE8 allows users to view such sites with the IE7 rendering engine. By clicking the button, misaligned text and images are fixed.
The Compatibility View button looks like a torn piece of paper and is located to the right of the address bar. Users can maintain a list within IE8 for sites that should be displayed in Compatibility View so they don't have to click Compatibility View every time they visit the sites.
Designed to deliver more Web options to users instantly, the Accelerator icon (a blue arrow) appears whenever you highlight any word or phrase on a page. Click the icon and various services related to that word or phrase appear in a list.
For example, if you selected "San Francisco" on any given Web page, you can then click the Accelerator icon and a list of options related to San Francisco appear; you can find the city on a map just by mousing over the Maps option; you can click on the search option and go directly to search results about San Francisco.
Users can manage and add a multitude of accelerators. To name just a few: All of the Windows Live services, all Google and Yahoo services, Share on Facebook, Find on Stumble Upon, Linkedin, Wikipedia and YouTube. The list covers most popular Web services.
Google Chrome started incognito browsing and Microsoft is following suit with In-Private browsing in IE8. When you are in In-Private Browsing, IE does not store data about your browsing session. Temporary Internet Files, Web address history, cookies and passwords are all disabled.
The path to access In-Private Browsing is "Tools -> In-Private Browsing." When in this mode, an In-Private" icon shows up to the left of the url in the address bar. In-Private Browsing mode can be deactivated by simply closing the window.
Enhanced Search Box
The Search Box in IE8 has added features for more flexible search. Users can pick what search provider they want and toggle between their choices in the search box by clicking on icons that are added when a search provider is chosen.
In addition to Live Search, other search providers available for the search box include Yahoo, Google, The New York Times, YouTube, Amazon, eBay and Wikipedia.
Each Web service can display its search results however it wants. For example, Google and Live Search results are a simple drop-down list of text links, whereas Amazon and eBay searches are lists of thumbnails and descriptions. YouTube returns thumbnails of videos.
Smart Address Bar
The Smart Address Bar in IE8 turns the URL area into a search field of sorts. If you type a word into the address bar, IE8 searches through your browsing history, favorites and feeds to find sites related to what you are looking for.
The search results are based on titles of pages as well as keywords within the Web address and are divided into three groups: History, favorites and feeds.
This is a pretty nifty feature if you want to find photos, video or stories you enjoyed but can't remember where you saw them.