We heard recently that the IE8 beta was coming really soon, and it looks like Microsoft's Internet Explorer team has delivered in that respect. The new browser is available right now from Microsoft's new Internet Explorer 8 Beta pages, and it's compatible with both 32-bit and 64-bit flavors for Windows Vista, Windows XP Service Pack 2, and Windows Server 2003. A word of warning, though: the IE8 beta seems to overwrite IE7 (although it can later be removed), and the installation requires a reboot.
So what novelties does Internet Explorer 8 bring to the table? Microsoft lists a good number of new features, including a new favorites bar, contextual "Activities" menus, "WebSlices" (chunks of content sites can serve to users' link bars), an improved phishing filter, "domain highlighting", new developer tools, and functionality to help users transition from other browsers. For instance, IE8 can import Firefox bookmarks and even look for extensions similar to those a user might have installed in Mozilla's browser.
One of Internet Explorer 8's big selling points is also its new "standards mode", which supposedly improves support for web standards. Microsoft claims IE8 fixes "many cross-browser inconsistencies" and "allows developers to build a single standards compatible website for multiple browsers." However, our testing with the browser suggests the IE team still has some work to do in that regard. Luckily, IE8 can fall back to compatibility modes that emulate either IE7 or IE5.