I've been keeping track of web browsers for some time now. With two new versions of them (MSIE 8 and Safari 4) coming out soon, I decided to see what's new.
First up is MSIE8.
I will say I'm favorably impressed. I've been using Firefox as my main browser* lately, but MSIE8 is a strong competitor.
The most obvious improvement is speed (the new Safari is also supposed to be very fast). Web pages pop onto the screen almost immediately. Very impressive.
MSIE8 also has made some small but important changes in design. The Favorites been moved from the Tab bar to a spot just above it, which makes more sense to me.
But the most interesting and innovative feature is MSIE's new "Web Slices." These let you put an item on the menu bar which lets you look at quick information from that site. For instance, if you add it for a weather report site, you'll see the current temperature and other information without having to go to the page. Only a handful of sites offer this capability, but I can see it being very popular.
Taking a page from Google Chrome, MSIE8 has what they call "In-Private Browsing," the ability to surf the web without saving cookies, history, etc. There is also "In-private filtering" that blocks sites from sharing your private information with other site. Another nice security feature is the smartscreen filter, which identifies potential fake websites (that "Paypal" site that came in a phishing e-mail, for instance). It also checks downloads to warn you if you're downloading spyware.
There are a few minor downsides. There are far fewer add-ons than you'll find in Firefox. The browser doesn't appear to offer skins (not a favorite of mine -- most skins look horrible). I also don't like the fact that menu items are both on the menu bar and to the right of the tabs; it makes more sense to me to group them in one place.
Still, given the better speed and security, MSIE8 looks like a strong challenger to Firefox and Opera.
*In the past, I used Opera, and I still like it a lot. But most sites don't believe Opera exists, it leads to problems, not with the browser, but with the sites. Some of my favorite Opera features -- Paste and Go, Speed Dial, and the Wand -- are just not available (Speed Dial is an add-in for Firefox, though).