While Windows 7 may be one potential "killer app" for Microsoft, another less frequently mentioned one is Internet Explorer 8. The betas of IE 8 drew rave reviews, with many saying the browser was faster, more secure, and more intuitive than IE 7, as well as bringing numerous useful features like the new InPrivate Browsing privacy mode, which some took to colorfully calling "porn mode". Another really nice feature introduced in IE 8 is the use of color coding for tabs from the same site.
Now Microsoft has announced the release of IE 8 Release Candidate 1, marking the home stretch for the browser's development. The browser offered is likely to be virtually feature identical to the final release.
For corporate users and those who stick with Microsoft offerings, IE 8 RC1 will be a great addition. Quite similar to the betas, with some new features that are mostly minor speed ups and stability improvements, the RC1 version nonetheless marks a great improvement over IE 6 and IE 7. One key improvement worth mentioning is a streamlining of the compatibility mode, which switches the browser to an older version of IE for sites that have trouble handling IE 8. The switch is now done automatically based on a compiled list, though you can still manually switch as well.
However, for those willing to try competitive browsers, Microsoft will have a tough sell. Arguably, IE 8 is more full featured and faster than Firefox 3. However, Firefox 3 has had months of advance to grow its market share and establish a base of dedicated users. Further, Firefox 3 has the ability to easily outdo IE 8 when you bring the plethora of available add-ons to the table.
Other browsers also will give IE 8 a run for its money. Opera is a strong candidate with its light, highly compatible, and very quick PC browser. Some will also pick Chrome, despite its bugs, for love of all things Google. And IE 8 will experience a mixture of direct and indirect competition of Safari, found mainly on Macs, but also installed on some PCs.
Ultimately, IE 8 is assured a strong market share thanks to Microsoft's name recognition and permeation into the corporate world. Microsoft would have to release a terribly flawed browser to not hold such a position, and fortunately it looks like the opposite is true -- it's releasing a really good one.
However, as Mozilla surely has Firefox 4 in the works, and other developers continue to hone their offerings, even this solid product will face a tough uphill battle to regain market share and prevent greater losses. It also faces the catch-22 that if it does succeed in regaining some ground, it may lead to greater antitrust fines from the EU. The EU, which has shown itself to be unafraid to fine Microsoft billions of dollars, is in the process of trying to fine Microsoft for alleged anticompetitive bundling practices with Internet Explorer, despite the fact that IE is at its lowest market share in years