The beta version of Microsoft's Internet Explorer 7 is now available to the general public. It was released on 31st January, 2006.
Microsoft hasn't changed much in this version of the browser since PC Worldcompared the first IE 7 beta to Mozilla's Firefox 1.5 Release Candidate 1 and Opera 9 Preview 1. But version 7 is a different beast entirely than the IE you are probably using today.
This new iteration of the world's dominant browser adds a number of features long since taken for granted by alternative-browser users, such as tabbed browsing, a toolbar-integrated search box, and limited RSS support. Version 7 also has a much more compact and streamlined interface than its predecessor, with a strong emphasis on dedicating as much of the window as possible to the displayed Web site. Also included are a number of security upgrades, like a new antiphishing filter.
Note that this beta of the browser is compatible only with Windows XP Service Pack 2. And keep in mind that, like any still-in-development version, this beta 2 release has bugs and rough edges. Some pages don't display properly, for instance, and the browser will crash more than you'd like.
You'll notice IE 7's interface changes right away. A mere two slim toolbars reside up top, with navigation buttons like Back, Forward, Refresh, and Home split up to make the best use of space.
Preview your open browser tabs with the Quick Tabs feature in the new, streamlined Internet Explorer 7.Tabs, also new to version 7, show up on the second toolbar. You can't move the tabs around, but you'll find a nice new feature called Quick Tabs. Click a gridlike icon next to the tabs, and you'll see a thumbnail-page display of all your currently open tabs. Firefox can mimic this feature with an add-on, but neither it nor Opera has it built in.
New security features in IE 7 include an antiphishing filter that warns you if you happen across a known phishing site, better ActiveX management that disables potentially vulnerable controls by default, and programming changes that try to reduce the number of avenues for attack.
The browser also has a thorough flush feature that clears the browser history, cache, cookies, and other personal browsing data with one selection from the Tools menu.
IE 7 lets you easily find and bookmark an RSS feed on any given Web page. But once you're subscribed, you have no way to get a quick preview of that feed's headlines--as you can with Firefox's Live Bookmarks--so you lose a significant part of RSS's usefulness.
It remains to be seen how the new IE will stack up against its increasingly popular competitors. But its release presents no downside: IE finally gets an upgrade, and the newly revived browser wars spur competition that hopefully will make all our browsers better.