Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Microsoft releases final IE 8 beta

Microsoft has released the second beta version of its next-gen Internet Explorer web browser.
Microsoft has released the second beta version of its next-gen Internet Explorer web browser.
SEATTLE - The next version of Microsoft web browser makes it easier for people to surf the internet without leaving a trace.

Companies that sell advertisements online - including Microsoft - can electronically gather tidbits about web surfers' habits, and then use that information to help decide what kinds of ads to show.

However, in the newest beta test version of Microsoft's forthcoming Internet Explorer 8, which was made available overnight, a mode called InPrivateBrowsing lets users surf without having a list of sites they visit get stored on their computers.

The program also covers other footprints, including temporary internet files and cookies, the small data files that websites put on visitors' computers to track their activities.

Both Internet Explorer 7, Microsoft's current browser, and Mozilla's recently released Firefox 3, already allow users to block cookies. The top two browsers also let users delete private information such as temporary files and browsing history after the fact. But they can't turn off that collection entirely.

The beta also introduces an additional InPrivateBlocking mode, which can block third-party content from appearing on websites. For example, a news site might carry stock quotes from one company and weather information from another. Companies that provide such content may also be collecting and sharing information about what people do online. But users who turn on InPrivateBlocking won't see that content or be exposed to such data collection without their consent.

InPrivateBlocking can also keep some types of ads from appearing - including those served up by Microsoft's own advertising platform, whose success is considered critical to the software maker's future.

JJ Richards, a general manager in Microsoft's advertising division, responded in a statement that consumers understand that they get free content and services in exchange for advertising, but want "transparency, trust and control with respect to the sites they visit."

"If IE8 helps heighten awareness of this value exchange, that's a step in the right direction," he said.

Users surfing with InPrivateBlocking turned on can review a list of which companies are trying to display or collect data. Users also can click a link to read more and decide case by case whether to permit certain ones to go ahead.

"Today as a user, we have no visibility or control over how that information is shared and recorded," said James Pratt, a product manager for IE8. "I wouldn't put Microsoft as being the arbiter of what should and shouldn't be tracked."