It's been a long time coming, but Internet Explorer 7 is here at last. If you're dying to get your hands on the new browser, you can go download it right now, but there's really no need -- IE7 will soon come knocking on your door.
In November, Microsoft plans to make IE7 an Automatic Update to Windows XP. That means that if you have Automatic Updates configured to download automatically, the new browser will download behind the scenes and then ask for your permission to be installed. If you have Automatic Updates turned off or configured to notify you but not download automatically, you'll see an Automatic Updates screen offering to download and install IE7.
When the new browser comes knocking, should you let it in? Oh, yes.
IE7 is a considerable improvement over IE6, and with new features such as tabbed browsing, RSS support, improved security, and an integrated search box, it's well worth the upgrade. IE6 was an inferior competitor to Mozilla's Firefox, but IE7 is the equal of Firefox 1.5, and in some ways better.
That's not to say, though, that everyone will be happy with this new version of IE. If you're a power user, much as you'll welcome these new features, you can be excused if you feel that Microsoft has partially abandoned you. For while this is a far superior browser to IE6, it's also less customizable -- a disturbing trend for those who live to tweak.
The most obvious change in IE7 is the addition of tabbed browsing, something that for inexplicable reasons, Microsoft has been avoiding for years. But the company has finally capitulated to user demand -- and it's done quite a credible job with the new feature. In fact, for basic tab usage, it has a leg up on Firefox.
IE7 gives you several ways to open a new tab, including clicking the small empty tab on the right, pressing the Ctrl key while clicking a link, clicking a link with the middle mouse button, or pressing Alt-Enter from the address bar or from search box to open the result in a new tab.
You can rearrange tabs by dragging them; to close a tab, click it and then click the X, or else click a tab with the middle mouse button.
All that is standard, garden-variety stuff, of course, but the Quick Tabs feature bests anything that ships with Firefox. (Note, however, that similar and even better features can be added to Firefox via third-party add-ons known as extensions.) Click the Quick Tabs button on the left and all your tabs will be displayed as thumbnails. Click any thumbnail to go to that tab; click the X on it to close it.
The Tab List button (just to the right of the Quick Tabs button) is also a useful way for navigating among tabs. It lists all of your tabs, with a check next to the tab that's currently live. Click one you want to visit, and you're off to the races.
There's also a great feature that lets you save a group of tabs as a Favorite, and later reopen them in one fell swoop. Why use this? You might, for example, have a group of news sites you like to visit, or sites related to a special interest, such as digital photography or opera. Open the sites, save them as a tab group, then later reopen them all at once.
To do it, click the Add to Favorites button (a green plus sign on top of a yellow star), select "Add Tab Group to Favorites," choose the Favorites folder in which you want to save a group, name the group (for example, "Tech News Sites"), and save it. Open up the group as you would any individual Favorite, and they'll all open in their own tabs.