NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, November 2006
Coming to a Computer Near You – Internet Explorer 7
By Ira Wilsker,
APCUG Director; Columnist, The Examiner, Beaumont, TX; Radio & TV Show Host

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Possibly by the time that you read this, you may have the release version of Internet Explorer 7 (IE7) on your computer. You may have to do little to get it, but you should be aware that if you have Windows XP, with Service Pack 2 (SP2) installed, the finished release of IE7 will automatically be included in the periodic updates pushed by Microsoft to most XP computers. According to Microsoft, the user will have a choice to install the new IE7, or retain the current version, most likely IE6, on the computer. For those who do not want to wait for the new version to be included in a Windows update, they can download now (as I type this) the “Release Candidate” of IE7, which is substantially the complete new version, directly from Microsoft at http://www.microsoft.com/ie. The final version, when released, will be available from this same website.

The previous version of IE, version 6, has been out for several years, and while there have been numerous security and feature updates, it has lost a small portion of its market share to the more feature rich and secure upstarts such as Mozilla’s very popular Firefox. IE7 is clearly meant to battle head to head with Firefox in order to maintain its dominance in the browser field by incorporating many features already available in Firefox, such as tabbed browsing, as well as greatly enhanced security. It should be noted that IE7 will be integrated in the upcoming release of Microsoft’s new version of Windows, Vista.

Internet Explorer 7 has a new look and feel with a more modernistic and streamlined frame with less clutter, and more space for web pages to be displayed. Many users like to print web pages, and one common problem in the past was that many web pages were formatted wider than the paper it was being printed on, either truncating (cutting off) data at the margin, or printing the edge on subsequent pages. IE7 offers an automated scaling to fit the webpage to the paper, as well as an option to only print selected text. Another feature that has been included in Firefox was an integral search box, where search terms can be directly entered. Microsoft has included an integral search box in IE7 which defaults to Microsoft’s own MSN search engine, but offers a wide selection of non-Microsoft search utilities. Other search utilities can be added, and the default search engine can be changed from MSN to an alternative search engine or resource with a single mouse click. In addition to the traditional search engines such as Google, Yahoo, and AllTheWeb, other searches can be performed from the search box. These other searches can include news sites (such as USA Today, CNN, or Cnet), shopping sites (such as EBay or Amazon), or other information providers.

Bookmarks, also referred to as “favorites”, have been reorganized, allowing quick access to the bookmarks, as well as the browsing history. News and information feeds using the RSS (Really Simple Syndication) format can also be included in the favorites. When a website is accessed that contains an RSS feed, an icon appears on the toolbar allowing for the RSS feed to be previewed or added to the favorites with a single click. If an RSS feed is selected, the user will be automatically notified of any new content on that feed, with the information displayed in a browser window. Another feature that has been popular with the competitive browser is tabbed browsing, where multiple websites can be opened simultaneously, with each site being shown as a labeled tab on the top of the browser window. In IE6 and previous IE versions, each new webpage appeared in a new window if multiple pages were opened. In IE7, a single window is opened (unless otherwise selected), multiple web pages are loaded into that single window, with each page selected by clicking on the respective tab on the top of the page. Tabs can be formed into groups with multiple pages (home pages or startup pages) selectable for automatic loading when IE7 is loaded. Another feature which might be useful to some user is the zoom feature that allows parts of web pages to be zoomed in or out in order to make them more readable.

Security has been an issue with IE6 being a popular target for miscreants and malware. IE7 is hardened to contemporary security risks, and offers better protection from web born attacks than its predecessors. Included in the security offerings are a phishing filter to help protect the user from identity theft by warning of potential spoofed websites. The address bar will show the true address of websites, not the spoofed but realistic looking addresses commonly used by phishers to steal identities or other personal and financial information, a definite security boost. Microsoft offers a voluntary opt-in feature that frequently updates the browser with protection from the latest web based security threats. Many malware writers write their software to take advantage of the Active-X engine integral with IE. In version 7 Active-X is better controlled than earlier versions making it more difficult for illicit code to be executed in the browser, offering enhanced protection.

To help protect the privacy of the user, opening a single window will allow the user to clear the cache of stored websites, and delete passwords, cookies, and form data from the hard drive.

Once Vista is released, IE7 will offer additional features to Vista users. One worthwhile feature is what is called “protected mode” which prevents malicious code from accessing any part of the hard drive other than the temporary internet files, thus making it difficult for malware to adversely affect the computer. IE7 integrated with Vista will also offer an integral “parental control” feature which will allow parents to control what their children access on the World Wide Web (WWW). Vista and IE7 can also store the child’s browsing history allowing the parent to review what the child has accessed; this history cannot be easily deleted by the child without the parent’s permission. The parent can also select a safety level which can control the internet and other computer activities of a child.

Internet Explorer requires Windows XP with Service Pack 2 (SP2) installed, or the higher Windows XP Professional x64 edition. Microsoft will run its controversial WGA utility to verify that the XP version is properly licensed before allowing IE7 to be downloaded. Since IE7 is already available for free download from Microsoft, and offers enhanced security along with many other desirable features, I recommend that all eligible users download it as soon as possible, and not wait for it to be included in an upcoming security update.

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