MS rolls out biz-primed IE7 RC1

Microsoft today made available Internet Explorer 7 RC1, sporting features such as bolstered security, improved AJAX support, improved enterprise-wide manageability, and even some features tailored just for Windows Vista, Microsoft's forthcoming desktop OS.

Often criticized for lackluster security in its products, Microsoft says it has injected superior protection in this version of IE, which is available for download via the Microsoft Internet Explorer 7 Web site. Among them, nearly all ActiveX controls come disabled; there's a phishing filter that warns users about -- or even blocks -- fraudulent sites; and redesigned URL parsing to minimize possible exploits.

Enterprise admins and developers may take interest in IE 7's CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) improvements. According to Microsoft, this iteration of the browser "addresses many of the major inconsistencies that can cause Web developers problems when producing visually rich, interactive Web pages. Improved support for CSS 2.1, including selectors and fixed positioning, allows Web developers to create more powerful effects without the use of script."

There's been some discussion on the Net as to IE 7's CSS compliance and how it will effect the browsing experience of sites designed with IE 6 in mind. "If your current CSS works with non-Microsoft browsers, the changes shouldn't be too drastic. Nevertheless, Microsoft has provided several documents designed to help ease the pain of transitioning CSS from IE6 into IE7," according to M-Dollar on PC enthusiast site Ars Technica.

Moreover, Redmond says it has added support for all IE settings through Group Policy, which should make enterprise-wide management easier.

There's a new IE Administration Kit as well, which Microsoft reports will enable OEMs and deployment specialists to add customized settings and additional programs in pre-packaged versions of the browser.

Also new is an RSS platform, which Microsoft says provides "functionality for downloading, storing, and accessing RSS feeds "across the entire operating system" for "any application that wishes to consume it." The platform has already received some criticism for not being secure.

The browsers enhanced AJAX support, according to Microsoft, "improves the implementation of the XMLHTTP Request as a native Javascript object for rich AJAX-style applications. Whereas IE 6 handled XMLHTTP requests with an ActiveX control, Internet Explorer 7 exposes XMLHTTP natively. This improves syntactical compatibility across different browsers and allows clients to configure and customize a security policy of their choice without compromising key AJAX scenarios."

Microsoft has tacked on a couple of features tailored just for Vista, too. Among them is a Protected Mode, where IE runs in isolation of other applications. This boosts desktop security in that exploits and malware are restricted from writing to any location beyond the Temporary Internet Files folder with explicit user approval, according to Microsoft. There are also controls for parents to restrict the children's online browsing.

Thus far, the new browser has received at least from kudos from sites such as Paul Thurrott's SuperSite for Windows:

"Internet Explorer 7 RC1 is faster, more stable, and better looking than previous IE 7 betas, so it's a required update for any users who installed IE 7 Beta 3 or earlier. As for IE 6 users, I think it's both safe and prudent to migrate to IE 7 now: You'll be able to upgrade to the final version fairly effortlessly and the security enhancements and new functionality should win over even the most jaded. It's not a perfect browser, but IE 7 is hugely improved, and even in this prerelease version is worth considering. I don't think there's enough there to sway Firefox users quite yet -- maybe IE 8?--but IE 7, even in RC1 garb, is looking good. Recommended."