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Review: Just Say Yes to Internet Explorer 7

Power users may not like it, but IE7's vastly improved features and security make it an essential upgrade

By Preston Gralla
October 19, 2006 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld -

It's been a long time coming, but Internet Explorer 7 is here at last. If you're dying to get your hands on the new browser, you can download it right now. But otherwise, there's really no need -- IE7 will soon come knocking on your door.

In November, Microsoft plans to make IE7 an Automatic Update to Windows XP. That means that if you have Automatic Updates configured to install automatically, or to download automatically and then notify you about the download, the new browser will download behind the scenes and then ask for your permission to be installed. If you have Automatic Updates configured to notify you but not download automatically, you'll see an Automatic Updates screen offering to download and install IE7. And if you have Automatic Updates turned off, you'll get no notification at all.

When the new browser comes knocking, should you let it in? Oh, yes.

IE7 is a considerable improvement over IE6, and with new features such as tabbed browsing, RSS support, improved security and an integrated search box, it's well worth the upgrade. IE6 was an inferior competitor to Mozilla's Firefox, but IE7 is the equal of Firefox 1.5, and in some ways better.

(Unless otherwise noted, in this review "Firefox" refers to version 1.5, the current official release. Although Mozilla is close to launching Firefox 2.0, we will wait until the final code is released before comparing it to the IE7 final version.)

The new and vastly improved IE7

The new and vastly improved IE7
(Click image to see larger view)

That's not to say that everyone will be happy with this new version of IE. If you're a power user, much as you'll welcome these new features, you can be excused if you feel that Microsoft has partially abandoned you: While this is a far superior browser to IE6, it's also less customizable -- a disturbing trend for those who live to tweak.

Editor's Note: Don't miss our accompanying Visual Tour of Internet Explorer 7.

Tabbed browsing

The most obvious change in IE7 is the addition of tabbed browsing, something that, for inexplicable reasons, Microsoft has been avoiding for years. But the company has finally capitulated to user demand -- and it's done quite a credible job with the new feature. In fact, for basic tab usage, it has a leg up on Firefox.

IE7 gives you several ways to open a new tab, including clicking the small empty tab on the right, pressing the Ctrl key while clicking a link, clicking a link with the middle mouse button or pressing Alt-Enter from the address bar or from the search box to open the result in a new tab.

Click the empty tab on the right to open a new tab

Click the empty tab on the right to open a new tab

You can rearrange tabs by dragging them; to close a tab, click it and then click the X, or else click a tab with the middle mouse button.

All that is standard, garden-variety stuff, of course, but the Quick Tabs feature bests anything that ships with Firefox. (Note, however, that similar and even better features can be added to Firefox via third-party add-ons, known as extensions.) Click the Quick Tabs button on the left and all your tabs will be displayed as thumbnails. Click any thumbnail to go to that tab; click the X on it to close it.

Get a thumbnail view of your open tabs

Get a thumbnail view of your open tabs
(Click image to see larger view)

The Tab List button (just to the right of the Quick Tabs button) is also a useful way for navigating among tabs. It lists all of your tabs, with a check next to the tab that's currently live. Click one you want to visit, and you're off to the races.

The Tab List is another easy way to navigate among your tabs

The Tab List is another easy way to navigate among your tabs
(Click image to see larger view)



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