After letting Internet Explorer 6 go for years without any significant updates, Microsoft has been trying to make up for lost time by releasing a series of previews and betas for IE 7. The first preview was released to the public in January, and Beta 2 followed on its heels in April. Now, Microsoft has unveiled a third and possibly final beta of its new web browser.
There are no significant changes to the rendering engine, as Microsoft promised web developers in March that the layout engine was “feature complete” and that they could start testing their sites with the new browser. However, the new beta does offer many bug fixes, performance enhancements and minor user interface tweaks.
As with Beta 2, the new version requires Windows XP with SP2 installed. Versions are also available for Windows XP Pro x86-64, and for both x86 and Itanium versions of Windows Server 2003. Microsoft recommends uninstalling Beta 2 or earlier if installed, although the release can be installed on top of Beta 2 if you feel like living dangerously. Installing IE 7 involves running Windows Genuine Advantage to check to see if you are running a “valid” copy of Windows twice: once before you download the installer, and a second time after the installation routine begins. While this may please people who really love to feel validated, it seems a tad overkill for installing a beta version of a free browser.
Improvements over Beta 2 are mostly bug fixes, although some welcome changes have been added to the user interface. Like most other tabbed browsers, Beta 3 now allows you to change the order of the tabs by dragging and dropping them into a new place. RSS feeds can now be updated all at once instead of one feed at a time, and there are more options for marking all feeds as read. For those people who missed their e-mail button on the main toolbar, the new beta allows it to be put back in. The crazy arrangement with the menu bar sandwiched in between the address bar and the toolbar is still there by default, and although it is possible to unlock these toolbars and drag them to more sensible places, you still can’t place the menu bar above the address bar, where most everone in the universe would expect it to be.
IE 7 Beta 3’s Toolbar, with the “Classic” menu bar disabled.
Microsoft continues to promote their new web site devoted to showcasing third-party plugins for IE 7, no doubt to compete with the many Firefox plugins available. Internet Explorer 7 does a good job of catching up to other browsers on the market, although Opera and Firefox users may not see anything new here that is compelling enough to get them to switch. However, IT managers will no doubt welcome the extra security features, including antiphishing tools that warn users when they are visiting spoofed sites.
Internet Explorer 7 is scheduled for a final release near the end of 2006, and although this is the last scheduled “beta,” there may be additional Release Candidate previews before that time.