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IE 7 in full release

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on November 17, 2006
(Issue 2446, Play that Funky Music)

Over the past few months, we've followed Microsoft's beta testing of Internet Explorer 7, it's answer to the latest versions of Firefox, Netscape and Opera – browsers whose modern features, stability and ease of use had eaten into IE's once-dominant market share.

Now in final release as a free download, IE 7 offers no big surprises over the beta versions.

The key improvements to IE 7 are:

  • Tabbed browsing. Introduced several versions ago by the Opera browser, this is a feature that allows you to have multiple Web pages open within one browser window by having them in individual tabs.
  • Improved RSS support. Makes subscribing to RSS feeds easier and more intuitive.
  • Integrated search window. Also following the other three browsers, IE 7 now lets you search from among the most popular search engines (including Microsoft competitors Google and Yahoo) without first going to a search engine's home page.

Perhaps the one change that will take the most getting used to is the rearranged pull-down menus along the top: Condensed into just two pull-down categories – "Tools" and "Page" – some of the functions take a little bit of hunting to find.

There are now anti-phishing and other security measures as well; if it is more stable than previous versions, then IE 7 may actually bring Microsoft's Web browser up even with the competition.


As IE 7 was being released, Microsoft was already touting IE 7 "add-ons." Found on Microsoft's "Marketplace", these are what every other browser calls "plug-ins."

There seem to be several hundred, ranging from e-book readers to photo savers (drag all the photos you want to save off a Web page to the tool bar, and they're all saved automatically). They all seem to have a free trial version, and the prices vary.

Still, it's a mark of the maturity of browsers in general, and IE 7 in particular, that none of the add-ons is what might be called a necessity.

Getting ready for Vista

Microsoft's next version of Windows, Vista, will be shipping to corporate customers by the time you read this. You and I will be able to buy it in the early spring; you can get the beta version now. (Beta versions of the next generation of Office products – Word, Excel, Powerpoint, etc. – are also being distributed.)

Of course, gamers who want to play "Halo 2" on their PC will have no choice: It will only run on Vista. If you're not sure if Vista will run on your existing PC, Microsoft has a utility that will test your computer, the Vista Upgrade Advisor. The drawback is you have to install the .Net Framework – and I'm not sure just what that is. Because of my uncertainty, and because of Microsoft's own spotty record on respecting their customers' privacy, I declined to install the .Net Framework.

But all that would have done was to have Microsoft's servers check my PC to see if it's powerful enough to run Vista – by going to the above Vista home page, you can see the checklist of what the hardware requirements are (I need more RAM).

If you're willing to download the Vista .iso file, then the beta version (Release Candidate 1) is free. There's a charge if you want the DVD mailed to you – but it's only $3.

Of course, the beta version of Vista is time-limited: it will stop working next July. And if/when you buy a full version of Vista on release, you'll have to do another bare installation.

For those who have to have the latest thing, or who want to see how Microsoft's next-generation operating system interacts with the Internet, it's free except for your time.

One more update

They've apparently been busy in Redmond, because Windows Media Player 11 is now out. If it seems like you just downloaded v. 10, you're not alone.

The free download is seamless if you already have WMP 10 installed; it automatically picks up all your existing playlists and settings. It uses the Urge online music store to compete with iTunes – and, in fact, cosmetically it closely resembles the iTunes player.

In fact, WMP 11 employes the Apple OSX liquid gel button look pretty heavily. Like the latest version of iTunes, it automatically downloads album cover art for each of the albums you've purchased and/or ripped. (Although it had some problems there, pasting an Alison Kraus cover atop an A.J. Croce album!)

The store seems to be well-stocked with songs available for download – and at the same .99 cent price per song, it matches Apple's industry-leading iTunes. On the downside, Urge – which is apparently funded by or affiliated with MTV – uses Microsoft's proprietary encrypted WMA format: meaning you can't use Urge songs on your iPod.

Still, for ripping your CDs to MP3 format and burning your own compilations from them (all perfectly legal, by the way), WMP 11 is far more stable than Apple's free iTunes client for Windows, which tends to freeze up while ripping.