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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

March 19, 2009 at 5:11 PM

What’s the coolest thing about IE8 (besides p_rn mode)?

My favorite feature so far in Internet Explorer 8, the new browser that Microsoft launched today:

Fine-tuned cookie handling. And not just because I’m still recovering from the latest Girl Scout fundraiser.

It’s a good habit to purge the temporary files, cookies and other browsing detritus that can bog down your system. But it’s also a headache, because you can end up zapping useful cookies that remember passwords and settings at Web sites you use regularly.

With IE8, you can clear the cache of temporary files, cookies and other browsing detritus, but still save cookies from “favorite” Web sites.

Microsoft made this happen by adding a “preserve favorites Web site data” option in the “safety” section — you check a box, and then the next time you delete history, it won’t delete your Seattletimes.com password.

It’s so simple, you wonder why it wasn’t there before.

IE8 seemed a little slow when I first installed it. I didn’t do exhaustive tests like Walt Mossberg, who liked it except for the speed, or Computerworld, where reviewer Preston Gralla loved the software but benchmark testing found slow JavaScript performance.

But I don’t think it’s significant enough to bother the millions of people who will soon be using IE8.

They’ll probably be excited by nifty new features like color-coded tabs that make it easy to tell which open pages are related, a one-click button that switches you from the browser to your e-mail program, and the overdue upgrade of the “organize favorites” controls.

Web developers will probably be excited about the ability to write “accelerator” tools. These are little pop-up applications that you can run with a few clicks, letting you translate a Web page or blog a snippet. They’re handy for people who like to use various services while browsing, but for people who just use browsers as a reading window, the recurring accelerator button may get annoying.

Then there’s the private browsing feature. It’s been dubbed the “porn mode,” but it’s a terrific addition for adding a layer of privacy when searching, especially when using a kiosk or shared computer.

To activate the feature, you click “InPrivate Browsing” in the “safety” menu. From then on, the browser won’t store any information about the sites you are visiting during that session, even if you open multiple tabs.

screenshot_privatebrowsing.jpg

The safety menu also offers another cloaking option: “InPrivate Filtering,” which prevents Web sites you’re visiting from passing along details about your browsing to other sites. This can prevent sites from targeting ads based on your location or previous sites you’ve visited, for instance.

Also worth mentioning is something outside the browser itself: IE8’s remarkable privacy policy.

Almost nobody reads privacy policies because they’re generally unreadable, burying disclosures under reams of legalese.

IE8 breaks the mold with what may be the best written privacy policy for any software product ever.

Eventually it gets into the nitty gritty of how Microsoft may collect information about you from the browser, but it reads more like a friendly, handy users guide than an obligatory legal disclosure. Are they up to something, being so clear about all this stuff?

Maybe someone decided that being nice and clear is the best strategy, since Windows 7 will make it easier for users to delete Internet Explorer at will.

Any other particularly cool — or not cool — features of IE8?

Comments | Topics: browser, Gadgets & products, IE8

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