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Internet Explorer 7: Browsing and security enhancements

Microsoft released the beta version of Internet Explorer 7 (IE7) and hopes it will solve the security concerns of IE6 as well as add RSS functionality and anti-phishing protection. Contributor Tony Bradley discusses these latest security enhancements in this tip.

Microsoft has rolled out the beta version of the new Internet Explorer 7 (IE7) Web browser application. Microsoft was not planning on updating IE until the release of Longhorn, the next major update of the Windows operating system, now dubbed Windows Vista. But, with the security of Internet Explorer 6 constantly in question and competitors like Firefox chipping away at Microsoft's Web browser market share, Microsoft chose to separate out Internet Explorer from the operating system and release its first major revision of IE in four years.

With four years of catching up to do and many security concerns to overcome, IE7 is full of new concepts and features. The major updates and new features include:

  • Tabbed browsing: Unless you have been living under a rock, you are probably aware that this is arguably the single biggest change in the actual functionality of the browser. Rather than opening a new window for each instance of Internet Explorer, multiple windows can be opened in a single instance and you can switch between them by clicking on tabs at the top of the screen. Competing products have offered tabbed browsing for some time.
  • RSS support: IE7 includes support for RSS feeds. An icon in the toolbar can be used to display any RSS feeds that might be associated with a given Web site.
  • Cross domain scripting protection: The new Internet Explorer appends the originating domain name to external scripts and restricts the ability of the browser to interact with content outside of its own domain.
  • Anti-phishing technology: IE7 validates Web sites against a Microsoft-maintained database of known phishing sites and notifies users when a Web site is suspected of being a phishing site. Users can disable the phishing filter if they choose.
  • Permanent search bar: Instead of clicking on Search and opening an entire left-frame for searching, Internet Explorer now has a small text box for entering search terms right next to the address bar. Entering your keywords into this text box and clicking the little magnifying glass will begin a search of popular Internet search engines.

This beta version is more like an alpha version. It still lacks many minor and major features that are promised in the final release. The beta is currently only available for Windows XP SP2. Eventually, Microsoft will produce versions compatible with Windows XP 64-bit and for Windows Server 2003, but no prior versions of Microsoft Windows, including Windows 2000 and Windows 98, will be able to use IE7.

Overall, there is truly nothing innovative about Internet Explorer 7. Rather than raising the bar with new Web browser technology innovations, they simply caught up with what the competition is already doing and added in the features that users seem most interested in. IE7 is still not compliant with industry standards like cascading style sheets (CSS) and the World Wide Web consortium, but the improvements, combined with recent critical vulnerabilities and urgent updates to Firefox, may be enough to stem the tide of users migrating away from Internet Explorer.

About the author: Tony Bradley is a consultant and writer with a focus on network security, antivirus and incident response. He is the About.com Guide for Internet/Network Security, providing a broad range of information security tips, advice, reviews and information. Tony also contributes frequently to other industry publications. For a complete list of his freelance contributions you can visit Essential Computer Security.

This tip originally appeared on SearchWindowsSecurity.com

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