Common wisdom holds that it takes Microsoft three versions to perfect a product. That's not quite the case with Internet Explorer -- it's taken Redmond all the way until version 7 to get it right. But now that IE7 is here, there's little reason to use any other browser.
I know that lauding anything from Microsoft is a bit like taking the side of the Empire in the Star Wars saga. After all, in the computing world, everyone hates a winner. So everyone hates Microsoft.
But that's no reason to hate its newly released browser. In fact, if you put your prejudices aside for a moment, you'll discover something really quite remarkable: Microsoft has released the greatest browser there is. Tabbed browsing, superb RSS handling, and dramatically improved security all make IE the best browser on the market.
At long last, tabs
It's a mystery why Microsoft took so long to introduce tabs to IE, but now that it has, it's leapfrogged the competition. It's simple to launch, close, and rearrange tabs. Unlike all the other browsers in this roundup, IE7 does not put an "X" close button on every tab that's open, just the active tab. Move to a new tab and the X comes too -- an elegant and space-saving way to manage multiple tabs.
Better yet is the Quick Tabs feature, which lets you display all your tabs as thumbnails on a single page. Click any thumbnail to go to that tab; click its X to close it.
Tab List is another useful tab-navigation tool. Click a button, and it displays all of your opened tabs in a list, with a check box next to the live one. Click one you want to visit, and off you go.
You can also save groups of tabs as a Favourite. Use this feature to open groups of news sites you like to visit, or sites related to a special interest, such as digital photography. All you need to do is open all the sites in separate tabs, then save them as a tab group in the same way as you'd save a single favourite. Then you can later re-open them all at once.
Superb RSS handling
What really sets IE7 apart from competing browsers is its impressive RSS support. In fact, IE7 may well bring RSS to the masses. Its built-in RSS reader is simple enough to use so that those who have never heard of RSS can easily use it, yet sophisticated enough that it may make you throw away your dedicated RSS reader.
Subscribing to a feed is as simple as it gets. When you visit a Web site with an RSS feed, the small RSS button on the toolbar lights up orange. Click it and select a feed to read it, and if you want to subscribe, click "Subscribe to this feed." As with Favorites, you can save feeds to folders.
The RSS reader integrates into the new IE Favorites Center. In the Favorites Center, click Feeds, and you'll see a list of feeds and feeds folders. Click a feed to read it; click a folder to see a list of feeds in it. IE7 automatically updates your feeds -- no need to tell it to get to work.
You read a feed in a single, long page, for easy browsing. You can also search through the entire feed; sort by date, title, and author; or filter by any categories the feed has created. So if you're reading an RSS feed of a blog about Microsoft, for example, you can filter to see only entries about Vista, Internet Explorer, and so on.
In Windows Vista, IE's RSS support is even better than in XP. RSS feeds can be displayed live, as they come in, inside a nifty RSS gadget on your desktop. That way, you don't even need to take an action to read feeds; they're right there on your desktop.