Last night Microsoft announced the release of the second beta of Internet Explorer 8, which is no doubt very similar to the final release version. You can download it from microsoft.com/ie8 (notes on upgrading).
Webmonkey have a nice round-up of the new features, so I won’t bother repeating that; instead, here are my first impressions after an hour or so’s use.
First of all, the user interface. It’s more polished and usable, and has Firefox-alike features such as the Smart Address Bar and tab grouping, which are becoming de rigeur for modern browsers. One minor niggle: I’d prefer visible close buttons on inactive tabs.
The most important part (for me, at least): the new rendering engine is much better than the creaking Trident. It’s much faster (even running on a virtual machine under Virtualbox), which is especially notable when dealing with Ajax-heavy sites such as Yahoo! Mail and Google Docs. It passes the Acid 2 test with flying colours, although manages only a paltry 21 on Acid 3.
But where it counts — rendering pages quickly, and to standards — it does a great job. I’ve seen a few pages with a few quirks, but hopefully this is down to either known bugs in pre-release software or non-compliant CSS.
Over all it’s much more stable and a big improvement over Beta 1 — and, of course, previous versions. Fingers crossed, the final release will iron out any remaining problems and uptake will be fast, allowing web developers a stable set of browsers to code to.