Q: Has enough time lapsed to install IE8 confidently; have all the quirks of any new upgrades been eliminated? — Gary

In the ongoing race to “build a better browser” many have viewed Microsoft’s Internet Explorer as a laggard in the browser wars.

Mozilla’s Firefox has consistently outperformed Internet Explorer for the past few years in both performance and features.

Within the tech community, Firefox has been the de facto browser for years because of all of the ‘add-ons’ that can allow for a wide variety of customized features and the ability to ‘tweak’ the setting to make it faster or more flexible.

The reality of the browser scene, however, is that many of the secured connection sites for banking, stock trading and accessing corporate VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) are programmed to only work with Internet Explorer.

For this reason, it’s prudent for all Internet users to have both Internet Explorer and Firefox installed on their computers so they can use either browser based on the site they are attempting to access.

The good news for those that like Firefox but are forced to use Internet Explorer is that version 8 of IE has incorporated many of the features that were previously the domain of Firefox fans.

One of the biggest improvements of IE 8 over IE 7 is in the area of performance. Firefox has been running circles around IE for some time and Microsoft worked on narrowing the gap significantly. Firefox is still testing as a faster browser, but the difference isn’t as obvious as it was with IE 7.

IE 8 handles web pages in a different way in order to achieve these faster speeds, so some older websites may not render properly in IE 8, but Microsoft made it easy to switch to a ‘compatibility mode’ for either a specific website or for all websites that you visit.

This means that as you run into websites that don’t render properly in IE 8, you simply add that site to the list of Compatibility View pages (Tools/Compatibility View Settings) and it will remember to switch in the future.

Web developers and RSS fans will appreciate the Web Slice feature that allows monitoring of resources without the normal site visits and to try to keep up with Firefox, IE 8 has its own add-ons gallery.

Another feature of note is the InPrivate Browsing option, which allows you to surf without saving anything in the browser History. This feature could be bad news for non-technical parents that use the History as a way to monitor their child’s Internet use (for better protection, I recommend K9 Webprotection, which is free.

Another copycat feature of Firefox is the ‘search suggestions’ that will try to guess your query as you begin to type characters into the search box. Many Firefox users found this a bit irritating and disabled this feature when it was introduces, so the same may apply for IE 8 users.

Finally, in an effort to help protect users from malware and phishing scams, Microsoft stepped up the level of security with the SmartScreen Filter. This feature is designed to block access to websites that have questionable code or are known phishing scams, but the likely trade-off is speed as it has to evaluate the code before you can see the site.

One of the really useful features in the SmartScreen Filter is that it highlights the domain name of the site you are visiting in the address bar to reduce the chances of being fooled by a clever URL in a phishing scam. In other words, if the site looks like your bank and the highlighted portion of the address is not your bank’s domain, you will quickly know something is ‘phishy’!

As far as waiting to upgrade to IE 8, the only users that I would caution are those that are accessing special corporate networks or specialized secured sites. In those cases, you will need to check with your system administrator or owners of the secured sites in order to know if upgrading to IE 8 will be a problem.

In my case, I am upgrading to IE 8, but will continue to use Firefox as my primary browser…

Ken Colburn
Data Doctors Computer Services
Data Doctors Data Recovery Labs
Data Doctors Franchise Systems, Inc.
Weekly video tech contributor to CNN.com
Host of the award-winning “Computer Corner” radio show