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• April 28, 2006 •

Review: Internet Explorer 7 Beta 2

Internet Explorer 7 Beta 2 February last year, despite having previously announced that no new version of Internet Explorer would be released prior to the release of Microsoft's next Windows Operating System (then codenamed "Longhorn"), Microsoft chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates announced that Microsoft would after all release a new version of Internet Explorer before "Longhorn".

Internet Explorers development had been stagnant for years. At the end of the 1990's Internet Explorer had won the battle with Netscape for control of the browser market, and Microsoft had no real reasons to improve their browser.

Finally, when Service Pack 2 (SP2) for Windows XP came around, Microsoft made some much needed improvements to their browser. It was high time too: Because of Microsoft's strategy to integrate Internet Explorer deeply into the operating system, and Internet Explorer's weak security, the browser had become the most obvious attack vector for malware & spyware.

Microsoft also noted the success of Mozilla's Firefox browser which was slowly eroding Internet Explorer's market share. Firefox success is mainly attributed to it being a somewhat more secure browser, and offering some modern features such as tabbed browsing and a pop-up blocker.

With Windows XP SP2, Internet Explorer finally got a pop-up ad blocker, and a rudimentary system to manage browser plug-ins.

As mentioned above, in February 2005, Internet Explorer 7 was announced. This browser will be available for Windows XP SP2, Windows Server 2003 SP1 and Windows XP x64. A version will also be shipping in Windows Vista (the next Windows operating system formerly code-named "Longhorn"), which will have a slightly different feature set than the version for the other mentioned operating systems.

At the end of July 2005 Microsoft released Beta 1 of Internet Explorer 7, although it was only made available through MSDN subscribers & beta testers. Last January Microsoft released a Beta 2 Preview, targeted at IT Pro's, developers & enthusiasts.

This week's release of the 'official' Beta 2 marks the release to the IE7 beta to the general public.

Looking at Internet Explorer 7 Beta 2

Microsoft made a significant number of changes to the user interface for IE7. Looking at the new UI one notes that the Back & Forward navigation buttons have been separated from any other buttons and next to the Address Bar there is now a new Search Bar (Figure). While the Search Bar defaults to using MSN Search you can add search providers and change the default to your preferred engine (Figure). The classic "File - Edit - View - etc" menu bar is gone (although you can toggle it by clicking the ALT key (Figure)). The most used commands are grouped under a few buttons on the right side of the menu bar.

Tabbed Browsing

Internet Explorer finally has support for tabbed browsing (Figure). Tabbed browsing is a feature that most users love, and probably the single greatest reason why so many users defected to using other browsers (notably Mozilla's Firefox), since it has been a feature offered by most other browsers for several years. Microsoft's implementation of tabs looks to be well thought out. Next to the rightmost tab, there's a button that functions to open a new blank tab when clicked, and tabs can be opened and closed using the keyboard commands CTRL+T and CTRL+W respectively, and you can use CTRL+TAB to switch between open tabs (yes, other browsers use this too). Another small but useful addition is a "close" button on each tab once you open two tabs or more (Figure), something that Firefox lacks, which means you always have to use the close button at the far right of the browser window. For users who don't like tabbed browsing, it can be switched off from Internet Explorer's Advanced Options (Figure). When you open a new (empty) tab, Internet Explorer will show you more information about tabs, including a whole range of keyboard shortcuts you can use with tabs (Figure).

Another addition is the Quick Tabs function, which will appear as a button next to the Favorites Center and Add/Subscribe buttons when you open more then one tab. Quick Tabs will show you a tiled-preview of all opened Web documents (Figure). You can select a tab to open (IE switches back to "normal" view) or close any or all tabs from this Quick Tabs page. You can also refresh individual tabs, or refresh all open tabs. When you have opened a number of tabs, you can save those as a Tab Group (Figure) to your Favorites. From the Favorites Center you can select a Tab Group, and either open individual tabs from that group, or open all tabs from that group (Figure).

Favorites Center

Since the classic menu is hidden in IE7, Microsoft added a new Favorites Center to access & manage not only favorites, but also RSS Feeds (see more on RSS below) and browser history (Figure). You can add new favorites by simply clicking the "+ " icon next to the icon of the Favorites Center.

Page Zoom

Another nifty function is the new Page Zoom. You may know that in older Internet Explorer versions (it is still available in IE7 too) you can increase the text size on a Web page by selecting View > Text Size and choosing from a range of sizes (from smallest to largest (Figure)), but this would only increase the size of the text. The new Page Zoom works on all elements on a Web page, so you get true zoom capabilities (Figure). When working with page zoom, you can now also scroll horizontal, even if you don't have one of those new "tilt" mouse scroll-wheels that support horizontal scrolling by default. In IE7 Beta 2 you can scroll horizontal by holding down the Alt key while using your scroll button. Microsoft notes that this causes the classic menu to appear/disappear when you lift up on the Alt key so they are planning on changing it to Ctrl + Shift + Mouse wheel in the final release.


Internet Explorer's printing feature has always been a weak point. This time Microsoft decided to completely overhaul the printing functionality of IE. Finally it includes the option to "Shrink to fit" (Figure), so that a Web page fits completely onto a printed page, a feature common in most browsers today. Other printing options included let you switch between portrait and landscape mode, and an option to remove the header and footer text.

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