Exploring the Explorer
But given that so many people are sitting behind it day in and day out, it's fair that a few tips for smarter usage be passed around.
1. Smaller: Slicing up the Web
Web pages are like so passé. Somewhere between RSS feeds and getting an email that a page has been updated, Web Slices allow you to keep a distant eye on one portion of a Slice-enabled web page.
If the content on that Slice is updated, its entry in your Favorites bar will go bold and flash to indicate the change. By adding slices to your own sites -- see the MSDN tutorial here using hAtom microformat and Web Slice components -- you can add another level of interaction and stickiness to them.
If you're using IE8 as you read this, put your mouse over the "Most Popular" articles list in the top right corner of this page. We've Web Slice-enabled that list as well as our Industry Events Calendar.
One important note is that IE8's Web Slice technology supports Authenticated Web Slices. Yup, there's a security model that supports authentication for slice tracking. Learn more here.
Like this stuff? It is a pretty cool concept, if still a bit young -- we're sure the tools will evolve to some interesting points. Kudos to the IE8 team for this time saver. And if you want to poke around further, a list of Slice-enabled sites is available here.
Note: If you actually are annoyed by the Web Slices behavior, you can easily turn off the little pop-up buttons under Settings. See this tutorial for details.
2. Faster: Accelerate Task Completion
Accelerators help users interact with web content in more ways and save copying details into another site to track down further information.
Addresses can instantly be viewed on a map, foreign text can instantly be translated, text can be quoted into a blog or an interesting link twittered. Install your favorite Accelerators then select the target text or object, right-click and choose the Accelerator action.
If you want to create your own Accelerator, then you need to create and register an XML file, there's a full article on doing this here.
Some of our favorites are:
- Define with Wikipedia
- Google Maps Look-up
- Share on Facebook
- Shorten with Bit.ly
- Share it with Shareaholic
Web Accelerators -- Complete Tasks More Quickly, Add Browsing Richness
3. Maximizing: We're Better Together
Accelerators and Slices are probably the biggest features of IE8, combined they can be used as a serious tool for keeping visitors engaged on a site.
eBay is one of the early exploiters of the technology with an Accelerator for finding items that you are interested in on the eBay site and you can then use Web Slices to follow the auctions without having to check your email or keep watching the auction page. eBay even has a dedicated microsite explaining how users can leverage new IE8 functionality for optimal shopping.
Combining Accelerators and Web Slices -- eBay Goes Hook, Line and Sinker
4. Expanding: Similar Sites Come to You
If you visit a web site, but it doesn't quite have the information or content that you're after, you can try finding similar places using the Suggested Sites feature.
This is an optional feature of IE8 and as such it must be manually enabled in the Tools Menu. The suggested sites feature has some related privacy implications, namely that it will ship your RSS subscription and browsing history data up to Microsoft's server. It will also update its list of suggestions periodically, even when IE is not running. So beware of what you're getting into before proceeding here.
Once enabled, when you visit a site, you can click the Suggested Sites button in your Favorites Bar (which must also be set to visible) and a list of sites that feature similar content will appear. Choose one and see if it has what you are looking for.
Mileage will vary with this feature and as you'd expect, the recommendations will improve over time as more data is collected and analyzed. In the screenshot below, you can see that with very little data, one gets very little value. For example, we're not sure how similar CMSWire.com and Facebook.com are.
Similar Site Suggestions with IE8
5. Safer: Dodging Dodgy Websites
One easily overlooked feature of the address bar that is well worth paying attention to is the domain highlight feature. This helps you quickly identify possibly dangerous -- mostly phishing -- websites in the blink of an eye.
The domain name of the URL is highlighted (similar to Google's Chrome) so that you can check at a glance if the site is legitimate, or if something is not quite right. So, microsoft.com will appear if you're at the correct site, but microsoft.sneakysite.com will appear if you're on a fake site.
Domain Highlighting -- Making Bad Look Bad
6. Geekier: Fast CSS Debugging
The web dev geeks get some love too. IE8 gives us a quick way to poke around and test CSS rules. You can toggled direct and inherited rules on and off with the click of a mouse.
Hit that F12 key, bang, we get the Web Developer window. Step down or search the DOM tree for the node you want. View the rules directly applied to the node and the inheritance chain. Click the checkbox next to each rule to turn it on or off and view the results in real time in the browser window. Note this works best with big screens or multiple monitors.
Power Geeking with IE8 -- Debugging CSS
7. OmiFlexing: Search or Navigate in Address Bar
The flexibility of browers' address bars was brought to the fore with the release of Google's Chrome browser and its all singing, all dancing address bar. IE8 has a bit of this magic as well. You can search and get suggestions right from the address bar.
Put the cursor into the address bar, but instead of typing "http://"or "www" etc., put a "?" followed by a space character, then begin typing the word you are interested in. If suggestions are enabled, you will now see a list of possible phrases. Select a phrase (click or hit return) and you will get results from your top search provider (as configured).
IE8 Address Bar Magic -- Search or Navigate
There are a lot of features in IE8 that can be utilized by developers to keep people coming back and by users to make daily tasks simpler, faster and more rich.
After just a short time in the wild, Microsoft's new browser has around 4% of the market -- a figure that will likely explode with the release of Windows 7.
Now we're not going to say that anyone should drop browser X in favor of browser Y. But with Internet Explorer 8 Microsoft has come back to the game in a respectable fashion. We're pleased to see that and thrilled to have a bit of browser innovation coming from Redmond.