Microsoft has unleashed its first release candidate (RC1) of Internet Explorer 8 – the software that it's hoping will dominate the internet browser food chain for years to come.
Although Internet Explorer remains the most used browser on the planet by some margin, Mozilla's Firefox has slowly eaten into IE's dominance and has now taken more than 20 per cent of the market.
With the use of Apple's Safari and Opera also up, and Google Chrome lurking menacingly, Microsoft is well aware that IE8 needs to deliver, so it's hoping that the browser's improved functionality and a number of key new features can help its cause.
All about the experience
"IE8 [is] focused on how people really use the web," said Microsoft's IE General Manager Dean Hachamovitch on the IE8 blog.
"Consumers want a browser that makes the tasks they do every day faster and easier. The activities people spend their time on define real-world performance: navigating to websites, working with tabs, searching, keeping track of changing information (like traffic or an auction), and using the information from one site with another (as in getting a map).
"Everyone wants a trustworthy browser that keeps them in control and protects their safety. Developers want great developer tools, great interoperability and a powerful platform that enables them innovate.
"For some people, accessibility is crucial; for some organizations, policy, administration, and deployment are essential."
The changes from the beta version to this release candidate have been described as 'mostly polish at this point'.
TechRadar compared the major players back in September and we were most impressed with the additional privacy features integrated into the then-beta version of IE8. These include the now de rigeur private browsing, anti-phishing and pop-up blockers, but its Adblock Pro also scored well.
Although concerns were raised ahead of RC1's release over IE8 being resource hungry and less quick to load pages than its rivals, Internet Explorer's place as Microsoft's Windows – the dominant OS by far – default browser means that it has an instant edge.
Internet Explorer 8 is available from http://www.microsoft.com/ie8 (opens in new tab), but it should be noted that it won't work with the Windows 7 beta, even though it will be the default browser for Vista's successor when it arrives.