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Microsoft launches IE 8 with a smile

At its Mix 09 event, Microsoft begins its campaign to persuade Web surfers to give its browser another chance.

Microsoft's Dean Hachamovitch launches the IE 8 browser at the Mix 09 conference in Las Vegas. Ina Fried/CNET

LAS VEGAS--Having finished its latest browser, Microsoft on Thursday kicked off its campaign to get consumers to actually start using it.

After years of losing market share to Firefox and other rivals, Microsoft is hoping to convince people, many of whom use old versions of Internet Explorer, to give the company a new look.

Part of that marketing push is a light-hearted video on the history of the Internet that also shows off some of the new features of Internet Explorer 8, including its private browsing mode and so-called "accelerators" that let users take action without leaving the Web page they are on.

The video was shown prior to the browser's formal introduction at the Mix 09 show. Microsoft also released the final version of the browser for download on its Web site.

"We are releasing it here at Mix because we are excited about what you, the developers, can build with it," IE general manager Dean Hachamovitch said. Hachamovitch then launched into a demo of the new browser, touting its anti-malware features, such as protection from click-jacking attacks.

Speaking to a crowd of Web developers, Hachamovitch also spent a good deal of time talking about the moves Microsoft made to make IE 8 far more standards-compliant than earlier versions.

The biggest ding on IE 8 so far has been its performance. Microsoft has sought to blunt criticism in two ways. First, the company has released a video that it says shows that its browser is faster at loading a number of key sites. Second, the company has tried to downplay the difference in speed to the average user.

"In most cases the difference could literally be measured by a blink of an eye," Microsoft Senior Director Amy Barzdukas said in an interview on Wednesday. "That kind of speed becomes almost a push."

The release of IE 8 comes at a critical time for Microsoft, which faces its steepest competition in years, facing credible rivals not only in Firefox, but also from Apple and Google, among others. The global market share of Internet Explorer, which was more than 90 percent in 2004, ended last year at just above 70 percent, according to Net Applications.