Internet Explorer: Whether you like it, loathe it or take legal action  against it, it's still a force to be reckoned with in the browser wars. And today, Microsoft let loose the full edition of the software's latest incarnation--Internet Explorer 8--after a year of having a beta test version out in the wild.
Microsoft's new browser comes at the end of a month where its competitors also revealed a slew of updated test versions: chiefly Apple's Safari 4 public beta  and Google Chrome 2.0 beta . IE8 will be free to download for genuine Windows-running users available from 9AM Pacific time this morning, and it'll play nicely with both Vista and XP.
Microsoft's worked hard to improve the package from the already successful IE7 (admittedly, IE is locked into Windows OS, so it's hard to avoid, but it has a 72% market share according to a recent survey by Janco Associates Inc.) As Amy Barzdukas, Senior Director Internet Explorer notes "of the top 20 things people do on the web, 19 have to do with navigation on the browser," and while that sounds like a redundant statement it makes good sense: much of what we know as web "surfing" is tinkering around with browser controls almost as much as interacting with web pages. So Microsoft's added some new features like "accelerators", a simple hover-and-click system that replaces the standard "copy--new tab--paste" maneuver, and lets you do other actions like launch translation or mapping services swiftly. Plus there's a new colored tab design that collects together tabs that have originated from the same source website.
But according to Microsoft, one of the most important improved areas in IE8 has been security--with changes both subtle and deep. NSS, a third party security firm, has been examining IE8 and reckons it's around two to four times better at identifying and blocking malware sites than any other browser. It rated IE8's overall malware-intercept effectiveness at 69%, versus 30% for Firefox v3.07, 24% for Safari v3.0 and a seemingly shocking 4% for IE7. As well as being impressed by the stability of the browser, the NSS survey notes that "Microsoft IE8 was by far the best at protecting against socially engineered malware and adds an excellent layer of protection on top of other endpoint protection solutions."
Of course the survey doesn't mention comparisons against browsers like Safari 4 beta. And Apple, Mozilla and Google will be busy working on improving the security, stability, functionality and speediness of their next-version browsers--these are, after all, the staple functions that help delineate between the browsers in a strange "marketplace" where all of the software is free.
But for now at least, it seems Microsoft's turned out a fairly sweet piece of new software in IE8--despite the fact that Walt Mossberg of AllThingsD  gives the browser a black mark for speed versus Firefox, Safari and Chrome.
You can download it here .