Since the IE development team releasing the first beta version of Internet Explorer 8 for developers last week, I've had the chance to play around with this latest incarnation of the Internet Explorer family. While most of the focus has been on the improved support for web standards, which is immediately evident even in this early beta, there are many more new features and enhancements that are making IE8 look like its shaping up into a solid browser.
1) The Acid2 Test
First off, I'll confirm that yes, IE8 does pass the Acid2 test.
2) Loosely-Coupled IE (LSIE)
How many times have we all come across this classic?
Nothing was quite as annoying as having multiple tabs/browsers open and having an error on one page, or with a plugin, cause all of them to crash. The IE development team has addressed this with a collection of internal architecture changes called Loosely-Coupled IE. In a nutshell, what LSIE means is that the browser frame (everything other than the tabs) and the browser tabs are now located in separate processes, so if you visit a website that disagrees with one of your plugins, it doesn't result in IE completely crashing out. Rather, you will see the classic "Internet Explorer has stopped working" window:
Which is now followed with the problem tab being recovered, rather than the entire browser:
3) Session Recovery
IE8 also offers a new session recovery option for those instances where you have an "unexpected" end to a session.
4) Domain Highlighting
A new feature of the address bar now highlights what IE considers the "owning domain" of the site you are currently viewing. At first it may appear strange, and somewhat unnecessary, but when you consider situations where unscrupulous webmasters try using subdomains to fool the user into thinking they are at a site they are not (such as www.domain.com.path.realdomain.com) this feature becomes a subtle, but useful visual cue to quickly draw your attention to the true domain of the site you are browsing.
5) IE8 Developer Tools
A nice addition for web developers is the built in IE8 Developer Tools, which is the successor to the IE developer toolbar. It features some nice upgrades from the developer toolbar, such as the ability to changes rendering modes on-the-fly.
A beefed up style-trace, which breaks down each style being applied to a selected element (showing you what specific element the definition is inherited from, and which stylesheet the definition is located in), and allows you to toggle the application of specific style definitions.
Unfortunately the developer tools are not as comprehensive as the phenomenal Firefox add-in Firebug, but are still a big step in the right direction, and provides the functionality needed to take most style-based issues with a web page.
The IE8 beta is quite stable, so I encourage you to give it a try and see what you think. I'll be posting more impressions as I continue using the beta, but I'd love to hear some more opinions on it, so please feel free to share your experiences and impressions in the comments section.