After being presented at MIX08 the first beta of IE8 is available for all to download and put through its paces (makes you wonder why there was a need to sign up to the beta on Connect) - true to form I have it installed and will run you through the first impressions.
The installation of IE8 was surprisingly quick and painless, it included the obligatory restart and update messages on Vista. Post install you get to choose your options from either the defaults or custom settings - in the interests of completeness I chose custom to see where it would take me (click on all thumbnails to see the full picture)
You get to choose the search providers, activity providers and whether to turn on the Safety Filter (recommended)
You do not get the option to add your providers straight away, instead once you complete the wizard IE8 will open with the default homepage (yes it is the welcome page as discussed previously) and further tabs for each set of options you chose to customise
So, with IE all configured it's time to start noticing the differences. You instantly notice the difference with the toolbars especially the Favorites Bar as it takes up more room at the top of the window - you can choose to hide it if you want which moves the Favorites buttons back on to the left hand side of the Tabs list
The next thing you'll instantly notice is some of the enhanced phishing protection. The address bar makes the actual domain portion of the URL bold so you can easily tell the exact site you are visiting; this will help with detecting phishing sites and is completely independent of the new Safety Filter, i.e. it still happens even if the Safety Filter is turned off - great stuff
The IE7 emulation button is indeed present (note: you cannot remove it from the toolbar) and acts as a toggle, selecting it requires you to restart IE in order to switch modes
As mentioned before, one of the main new features of IE8 is WebSlices: a small portion of your site to which users can subscribe and be notified of changes rather than a whole RSS feed. Now that the beta is live the whitepaper has been published so that budding developers can start working on their own slices. Let's look at an example slice and the options that come with it.
Once you find a Slice you can choose to subscribe to it which adds it as an item on the Favorites bar
automatic updates are disabled by default so you have to enable them
there are also a number of settings associated with WebSlices and the update schedules you can have with them
The other big change in IE8 is the activities which essentially take two forms: push and pull. You can "push" data to another service such as Windows Live Spaces or "pull" related information from a service such as a search service. A number of default activity providers are available at all times
This being a beta intended for web developers we have a number of development tools to assist with debugging pages and examining the differences from IE7
For a first beta IE8 is very good, I've not had any problems with it so far and not noticed any differences in rendering from the sites that I have visited - this is obviously a big concern for everyone. I must admit that I'm not entirely convinced about the usability offered by the Favorites bar but time will tell once sites start offering more Slices.
So far it's congratulations to Microsoft and the IE Team.
UPDATE: found my first rendering issues on del.icio.us and digg.com so have had to switch to IE7 emulation mode to use the two sites properly.