Explorer 7 is a move in the right direction

Microsoft has made Internet Explorer 7 (IE7) available in Beta 2 preview form to web developers and IT professionals for compatibility testing. So what should an IT department do about implementing IE7 in its company?

Microsoft has made Internet Explorer 7 (IE7) available in Beta 2 preview form to web developers and IT professionals for compatibility testing. So what should an IT department do about implementing IE7 in its company?

This, like so many Microsoft releases, depends on your experience. I have found that early adoption should be restricted to some form of research and development, until the inevitable teething problems are resolved. To illustrate my point, an independent researcher needed just 15 minutes to find the first bug in the Beta 2 preview release of IE7.

IE7 will be available as a stand-alone product for Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2), and an enhanced version will form part of Windows Vista. Microsoft says IE7 has been designed, and new features added, to focus on three main areas - security, manageability and ease of use.

It could be argued that some of the new features in IE7 are actually just bug fixes, for example the enhanced URL parsing. Currently, a hacker relies on a user clicking on an HTML link containing odd or excessive characters. In the process of parsing the URL, the system's buffer would overflow and execute the code the hacker wanted to install.

Other features, such as tabbed browsing (which allows you to open multiple web pages in a single browser window, and quickly flip back and forth), integrated built-in search bar, and private data clearing from a single button, appear to be IE7 simply playing catch-up with other browsers, for example Firefox v1.5.

However, some of the new features are welcome, especially URL display protection. This includes a mandatory address bar in every window, and support for Internationalised Domain Name (IDN) - which prevents bogus websites from using characters in other languages that resemble each other, for example "a" in English and "a" in Cyrillic.

Other new features include centralised control over Active Directory Group Policy (ADGP), which makes browser management easier and helps administrators ensure users comply with company standards; improved support for Asynchronous JavaScript and XML (AJAX) - IE7 exposes XMLHTTP natively, which improves syntactical compatibility across different browsers; and changes to how web pages are printed - removing that annoying problem of content being cut off at the left or right margin.

Overall, IE7 looks like a move in the right direction and does improve security, manageability, and ease of use. I would recommend IT departments evaluate IE7 Beta 2, because according to Microsoft, the product will be on general availability from the second half of 2006, and will be embedded in Windows Vista, which is expected around the same time.

Roy Illsley is senior research analyst at the Butler Group

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