IE7 logoInternet Explorer (IE) has been largely synonymous to browsing the internet ever since Microsoft decided to bundle it with Windows 95 operating system. The much heralded browser wars between Microsoft and Netscape accelerated progressive innovation of new features to the web browser which ended with the demise of Netscape’s Navigator browser. Unfortunately, ever since Microsoft released version 6 of the browser released to the public about five years ago dominating the web browser arena, innovation of new functionality or interface tweaks have grounded to a halt.

The resurgence of a strong competitor to IE in the form of Mozilla Firefox has caused Microsoft to restart its efforts in this arena. After about a year and a half since the announcement that the 7th version of IE was in development, Release Candidate 1 (latest version at time of writing) of Internet Explorer 7 (IE7) has been released to the public for testing. A RC1 status would mean a close to complete final version where the goal would be to iron out bugs which appear before the final release is shipped. With lots of promise by Microsoft that this browser will help stem its eroding market share, here are the new features which have been introduced to regain its foothold.

New look-and-feel (and name)

IE7{.imagelink}First thing you would notice once you start it up is the name change. As part of Microsoft’s rebranding exercise, it is no longer called Microsoft Internet Explorer but Windows Internet Explorer instead. The overall look and feel of the browser has been tweaked rather substantially, with the placement of buttons changed and certain toolbars hidden from view by default. Compared to Internet Explorer 6 (IE6), it is slimmer and thus takes up less vertical screen space. The address bar is now sandwiched between the back/forward buttons and the stop/refresh buttons which are on its left and right respectively. Most other browsers have these buttons grouped together on the left of the address bar and if this was aimed to differ it from other browsers, I personally believe it is a mistake. Another addition where the idea seems to have originated from other browsers is the search box, located at the right of the stop button.

Tabbed browsing

IE7 quick tabs{.imagelink}A greatly overdue feature that should have been implemented years ago is tabbed browsing. It allows multiple websites (tabs) to be contained within a single browser window which reduces clutter on your taskbar when you have too many IE windows open and also allows you to quickly switch between different pages more efficiently. IE based web browsers such as Maxthon and Avant Browser have long had this feature by encapsulating multiple windows into its shell, but this is the first version of IE from Microsoft which has tabbed browsing built-in.

A nice feature which is currently unique to IE7 is the ability to visually preview the content of the currently available tabs and switch between them through the Quick Tabs function.

Security features

Security vulnerabilities have continually plagued IE6 allowing alternative web browsers to use this point to lure people away to use their browsers instead. ActiveX, a technology which is enabled in IE to enable interactive content on websites has constantly been the main entry point of spyware/malware infections as it is easily exploited. In IE7, an ‘ActiveX opt-in’ mechanism has been put in place to ensure only the essential ActiveX controls are enabled while the rest are disabled unless explicitly allowed to.

Phishing filter

IE7 phishing{.imagelink}Phishing (pronounced ‘fishing’) to the uninitiated is using scam-like techniques to fraudulently gain sensitive information such as credit card details or passwords. Tricks usually revolve around emails which are carefully disguised as legitimate official correspondence from financial institutions with links pointing to a fraudulent website. The phishing filter built into IE7 would scan websites you visit and immediately block access if it finds a match in Microsoft’s database of known phishing sites. If the site is not found in the database but contains elements of a typical site of that nature, you would be alerted as well. Judging by its usefulness, it seems odd that this feature is actually disabled by default.


IE7 rss{.imagelink}As publishers everywhere have started syndicating their content using RSS (Really Simple Syndication), it was only natural for IE to support this. A feed reader and discovery tool is included in IE7 which enables the automatic detection of a feed presence as well as viewing and subscribing to feeds.

So, should you upgrade to this browser when the final version is released? Well, it actually will be done automatically unless you tell it otherwise. The update to IE7 will be automatically distributed as a high priority update through Windows Update when it is released.

That said, IE7 does indeed resolve shortcomings prevalent in IE6 besides introducing much needed features to bring it up to par with alternative browsers currently available and thus is a worthy update. Unfortunately, Microsoft would have to do a lot more if it wishes to regain the market share it has lost as the new version does not offer anything revolutionary but only manages to keep up with the two of its closest competitors, Mozilla Firefox and Opera.

Khim Hoe recently told me about another web based RSS reader called News Alloy. After coming to a conclusion that Bloglines was by far irreplaceable in my previous blog entry on RSS readers, I went to try it out since he said it was pretty decent.

Initial impressions was that it has a similar feel to Bloglines, but with more Web 2.0-_ish_ elements. As with my previous tests, I imported my Bloglines exported feeds into it. Importing went fine, but then a problem surfaced. Quite a fair bit of feeds which I knew were updated recently did not contain any entries in them which seemed something went wrong. The problem was that Newsalloy does not grab the feeds’ entries immediately after being added and is probably added to some sort of queue.

The AJAX interface has a similar flaw to Newsgator which is you would have to scroll down and up between reading feeds and going back to your feeds sidebar. After loading a few feeds that were available, I started to feel that they’ve tried to cramp too many icons/links onto the screen which made it feel cluttered. On the plus side, loading speed of feeds are pretty close to Bloglines.

I won’t be shifting from Bloglines to this, but for those who dislike Bloglines’s simplicity and Newsgator’s slowness, you could give this a shot.

If you’re always having to use public terminals or friends’ PCs, you definitely would have been in a position where you wanted to or had to install an application to get some stuff done. In another situation, the applications might have already been installed on the machine, but the settings isn’t configured to how you want them to be, causing heaps of time wastage in reconfiguring it (and risking the wrath of your friend or sysadmin).

With USB thumb drive storage capacities skyrocketing in recent times, you can now have those applications you need stored in it, ready to be used right away with Portable Apps. The list of applications being made portable seems to be growing so there is a chance more applications will be added soon if the one you’re after isn’t listed. All portable applications are open source and seem to be updated fairly regularly.

However, with more and more traditional desktop applications being turned into web applications (e.g. Writely, Google Spreadsheets, Google Calendar, Meebo) as well as internet access being available almost everywhere, I  believe the only portable application worthwhile having on a thumb drive would be Firefox Portable since everything else is available through the web browser. Hmm, I think I should stop before I start contradicting myself..

I already heavily use Gmail’s filters, but this trick would greatly reduce the need to create heaps of filters for individual email addresses which I would want to group together.

Gmail has an interesting quirk where you can add a plus sign (+) after your Gmail address, and it’ll still get to your inbox. It’s called plus-addressing, and it essentially gives you an unlimited number of e-mail addresses to play with. Here’s how it works: say your address is [email protected], and you want to automatically label all work e-mails. Add a plus sign and a phrase to make it [email protected] and set up a filter to label it work (to access your filters go to Settings->Filters and create a filter for messages addressed to [email protected]. Then add the label work).

Examples of its usage here.

via digg 

Domains are really cheap nowadays, however finding the right hosting provider which offers reliability, adequate space and features you need at a reasonable price can be tricky (I’m happy with my current host though ;)). Google now offers to handle your hosting and email for your domain for free via Google Apps for Your Domain which could be handy if you’re still in the process of selecting a web host.

I’m using it for email accounts on the domain and it has alleviated the need of space on my hosting server. The mail interface is similar to Gmail, so if you’re comfortable with using Gmail, you wouldn’t have any issues with using this. Page Creator is the application with supports the creation and hosting of web pages, however I have not tried this out.