Microsoft has officially released Internet Explorer 8 (IE8), the latest version of its web browser, adding improved compliance with web standards, greater security features and improved performance.
Available to download now, IE8 includes only minor changes over the release candidate version that was made available to testers in January.
The new browser adheres much more closely to published web standards than previous versions, and has features designed to offer greater user privacy and stronger protection against malicious web pages. It also has user interface improvements designed to make life easier, according to Microsoft.
"It really is the most complete browser currently available for whatever you want to do," said John Curran, Windows Business Group lead at Microsoft UK.
However, Gartner analyst Ray Valdes maintained that IE8 has no compelling new features from an end-user perspective.
"But Microsoft doesn't need to have compelling features - it just needs to be in the same ball park as rival browsers. Its advantage is a huge installed base and the supporting infrastructure in enterprise deployments," he said.
Nevertheless, Valdes stressed that the improved security in IE8 makes it an essential upgrade, especially for businesses still using Microsoft's browser. " Enterprises now need to get off IE6 and move to a more modern browser," he said.
IE8 now displays content in the most standards-compliant way, which should drive greater consistency in web sites and applications. However, some content designed for older IE versions may not display properly, which means that a Compatibility Mode is required to display any problem pages as they would look in IE7.
"The problem is that many corporate apps were designed for IE6, which had flaws, so the apps worked around those flaws. If you try to use them in a modern standards-based browser, they don't work," explained Valdes, adding that this is not likely to be a problem in the web at large.
"Legacy support is important," explained Curran. "If a company standardised on IE, they've probably made a significant investment in applications, and we want to ensure they can continue to take advantage of those. Microsoft takes this very seriously."
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