First look: Internet Explorer 8 beta

This beta release of Microsoft's browser sports some cool new features -- but it's still very beta

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WebSlices

Even though IE8 looks a lot like IE7 at first glance, it sports a variety of new features. Primary among them is WebSlices, which are something like RSS feeds on steroids. As with an RSS feed, you subscribe to changing content that you find on a Web page. But WebSlices are graphically richer and interactive. In addition, they will alert you when content in a specific portion of a Web page changes -- for example, a stock price, or the current high price on an auction.

When you subscribe to a WebSlice, it appears on the Favorites bar. Whenever the content of the Web page changes, the title of its WebSlice turns bold. Click the WebSlice, and the WebSlice drops down, complete with content. You can click through to go to the Web page that houses the slice, or simply view it in the drop-down.

ie8_web slice_sm.jpg

WebSlices let you view content on the fly.

This is a nifty feature, but only useful if Web developers place WebSlices on their pages. At the moment, there aren't many WebSlices out there. So it's hard to know whether this will become a truly useful feature, or instead will join the long list of good ideas that have had a quick exit to the graveyard.

It appears to be quite easy to define a WebSlice on a Web page, so it shouldn't take much effort for developers to create them. For example, here's the HTML code for creating a WebSlice of an eBay auction:

<div class="hslice" id="1"> <p class="entry-title">Game System - $66.00</p> <div class="entry-content"> <img src="game.jpg"> <p>End time: <abbr class="endtime" title="2008-02-28T12:00:00-05:00"> 6 hours</abbr></p> </div> <a rel="feedurl" href="www.ebay.com/game.xml">Subscribe to Feed</a> <p>This item updates every <span class="ttl">15</span> minutes.</p> </p> </div>

Not that bad, at all.

New Favorites bar

The Links bar has not only been folded into the Favorites bar; it has been given a few new features. For example, you can put WebSlices and RSS feeds here as well as links. According to Microsoft, you can also include links to documents on your hard disk. I'm not a big fan of the new Favorites bar; it's in the same location as the old Links bar, taking away too much real estate and offering not many new features. I'd prefer there be some other place to put WebSlices. Where? That's something for Microsoft to figure out. ...

Activities

This feature gives extra power to the Internet Explorer right-click menu. Hover your mouse over an item or highlight it, right-click and a list of actions appears. These include viewing the highlighted term in a map, translating it, defining it and so on.

ie8_activities_sm.jpg

Activities are small, low-powered mashups.

Depending on the choice you make, you may see a preview screen of your action right on the Web page, such as displaying a small map. You can then click through to the larger map.

Think of Activities as small, low-powered mashups that deliver information to you from another Web site, or interact with another Web site or service. Again, the key here will be how many sites provide Activities. There's already a sizable group of Activities providers, including not only Microsoft, but Facebook, Digg, StumbleUpon and Yahoo.

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