Microsoft announced some pretty impressive details about the forthcoming version of its Internet Explorer browser (IE8) at a London launch event last night.

Windows Internet Explorer 8, currently in 'beta 2' stage, is pretty much feature complete, according to Head of Windows Team UK, John Curran.

Curran told the assembled hacks at the London event that "IE8 is one of Microsoft's biggest releases in the internet space in the last few years," promising that we should see "the final browser due within months," and that, overall, the IE8 browsing experience is going to be "much easier, more intuitive, simpler, faster and more reliable."

Privacy for 'personal medical issues'

Microsoft revealed a number of cool new browsing features, in addition to sharing a few more details about the well-publicised InPrivate Browsing and InPrivate features for porn-surfers, which make sure that a user's history, temporary internet files and cookies are not recorded while you browse.

Of course, these features were presented for those users that wish to keep their history private, such as those internet users with 'personal medical issues', those using webmail on friend's computers and so on. Pornography was not mentioned at any point by any Microsoft execs present!

Smart Addresses

IE8's Smart Address Bar is a similar concept to the Awesome bar in Firefox 3, though arguably is a slight improvement on Mozilla's already superbly intuitive internet search tool.

Other new functions such as Accelerators, "give users ready access to the online services they care about most from any page they visit," with Microsoft demo'ing three highly useful examples – Live Maps, eBay and Encarta accelerators.

Cian Weeresinghe, an eBay rep on hand at the launch, added that: "IE8 wil make buying on eBay a much easier and smarter experience.

Toggle and search

IE8 will also make it far easier for you to toggle between your primary search engine and other 'vertical providers' (ie searching within your favourite news sites, auction sites and so on) and the new 'web slices' drop down boxes were also a feature that we can't wait to get used to playing around with a little more – particularly as they have the ability to host rich media (Flash, Silverlight and the like).

Speaking about the Digg web slice, a Digg rep at the event said: "We at Digg are thrilled that Microsoft is paving the way forward with this product… we're seeing the 'widget-isation' of the web."

Interestingly, the Digg guy also added that "London is Digg's biggest city in terms of traffic".

Try out the beta now for yourself at microsoft.com/IE8, to see if it's worth switching allegiance from Mozilla's Firefox 3 or not.