Microsoft reveals IE8 Beta 2

Adds smart bar and boosts search detail; final ship date not yet set

With several days to spare before its self-imposed deadline, Microsoft yesterday launched the second beta version of its upcoming Internet Explorer 8 (IE8) browser, but would not commit to a ship date for the final.

In early June, then-chairman Bill Gates promised that Microsoft would post Internet Explorer 8 (IE8) Beta 2 before the end of August.

Today's preview includes several new features introduced since March's Beta 1 debut, but only two of them haven't been openly discussed already, said James Pratt, a senior product manager in the IE development team.

"About 80 percent of the time, when people are on the Web, they're browsing to sites they've visited before," said Pratt, pointing to what Microsoft has dubbed IE8's "smart address bar."

Much like the revamped location bar Mozilla added to Firefox 3.0 -- which it calls the "Awesome Bar" -- IE8's address field now can be used to search for previously-visited sites by typing in words or phrases.

Unlike Firefox's tools, however, IE8's doesn't rely on an integrated database to store and then retrieve those URLs. Instead, said Pratt, Microsoft relies on its Windows Desktop search application, which is bundled with Windows Vista but is a separate download and installation for Windows XP users.

Last month, Microsoft warned users it would soon begin pushing out an automatic update of Windows Desktop 4.0 to Vista users; people running XP, however, would see it only as an optional update.

Windows Desktop must be present in order to use the new smart address bar functionality, Pratt acknowledged. "They're dependent, yes," he said.

The other feature he stressed in Beta 2, search suggestions, also has been held until today, Pratt said. "We've introduced a way to search more quickly," he said, pointing to search bar, which now that lets search engine and Web site developers add more functionality to searches. Pratt demonstrated a search using Amazon.com's engine in IE8 Beta 2 that provided not only item results from the online store, but also artwork, such as album cover art for CDs, as well as prices.

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