Internet Explorer 7 review: Internet Explorer 7

Review Sections

Speaking of accessibility features, IE 7 includes zoom technology and the new Clear-type page technology, which Microsoft claims renders page fonts as sharp and clear as those printed on a piece of paper. We find the IE 7 page zoom a bit clunky compared with that of Opera, which uses the scroll button on your mouse; Microsoft uses hot keys, preset sizes, and an option to render at a custom size. Even if you zoom to the maximum level, 400 percent, we found that the Clear-text technology within IE 7 remains quite clear with fonts, although art and photos do become pixilated.

Printing within IE 7 has also been enhanced; like Mozilla Firefox, pages within IE 7 now automatically shrink to fit on the printed page, sometimes resulting in microprinted text. You should always preview the page first so that you can also customize the shrink if needed.

Like Firefox, Internet Explorer has various add-ons; however, Microsoft can't match the large international community of developers that Mozilla enjoys.

RSS isn't treated lightly within IE7; in fact, Microsoft built an entire RSS reader and bundled it in with the browser. Now when you click on the RSS button, you'll see a listing of the feeds provided by a given Web site. Click the feed you want, and IE7 displays the latest headlines and blurbs. Unlike IE6, the page is readable (no more XML gibberish), with links to subscribe and to update the current feed.

Security enhancements within IE 7 for Windows XP SP2 include increased malware protection by requiring you to opt-in when using ActiveX components (previously, ActiveX components installed automatically unless you changed the Internet options settings), along with an increased default Internet security level (medium-high), a new layer of certificate authentication, and antiphishing technology. Microsoft has added security protection to its new RSS reader as well, accepting only valid RSS feeds and not malware. There are also built-in code protections against Cross-Domain script attacks and malicious URL handling. However, much of the code used to create IE 7 has essentially remained unchanged from that of IE 6, so many of the non-ActiveX flaws now being discovered within IE 6 will likely affect IE 7. Given that Microsoft fixes only between one and five Internet Explorer flaws each month, we do not find IE 7 to be substantially more secure than IE 6. Further security protection, such as the sandboxing of all Internet Explorer sessions, will be offered within the Windows Vista version of Internet Explorer 7.

Also unchanged within IE 7 is the underlying rendering engine; IE 7 still uses essentially the IE 4 Web engine. So in terms of page performance, Mozilla Firefox, which updated its Web engine with Firefox 1.5, remains the much faster browser.

Speaking of rendering, IE 7 offers Clear-type text enhancements but still does not offer full Cascading Style Sheet 2.1 (CSS 2.1) standards compatibility and has spotty support of XHTML 1.1, HTML 4.01, WML 2.0, ECMAScript, DOM 2, and SVG 1.1--standards supported by the W3C organization. Thus, IE 7 fails what is called the Acid2 Test, a test designed by the Web Standards Project to demonstrate complete standards compliance. So far, among the browsers reviewed by CNET, only Opera has passed the latest Acid2 test, with Mozilla Firefox expected to comply shortly. As Web designers adopt these standards, some sites may begin break as IE 7 falls farther behind the standard used by Web designers worldwide.

IE 7 includes Microsoft's new antiphishing technology, designed to prevent users from providing personal data to fraudulent Web sites. Microsoft has touted its new technology (partnering with security vendors Cyveillance, InternetIdentity, MarkMonitor, and RSA Security's Cyota) as superior to others, yet in our own admittedly limited tests, we found that IE 7 consistently failed to catch phishing sites less than 1 hour old, although IE 7 caught all phishing sites known for at least 1 hour or more. Most phishing sites are removed after their initial 72 hours. We found that stand-alone antiphishing filters, such as that from Netcraft, performed far better than IE 7 in flagging brand-new phishing sites. Microsoft says it is constantly updating its antiphishing technology and hopes to stop newer phishing sites, as well as old phishing sites.

There are a lot of changes within IE 7, though not as many as we'd hoped and some that are merely cosmetic. Missing are innovative, cutting-edge features such as search engine suggestions, live feeds within bookmarks, inline spell-checking, and session restore--features offered within Firefox 2-- or thumbnail tab previews, desktop widgets, or voice (which can read Web pages aloud)--features offered by Opera 9. Given a proposed 18-month development cycle for the next release of Internet Explorer, IE 7 was Microsoft's one chance to leapfrog ahead of the competition, but the company has only barely caught sight of the current front-runners.

That said, everyone should upgrade to IE 7 when offered the chance, even if you never intend to use it. Because Internet Explorer is so tightly bound within Windows XP SP2 (for example, if you view an HTML document in Microsoft Word, you're using IE technology), it's better to have the improved code within IE 7 running on your system than not. But for a truly secure Internet browser with more features, we still recommend Mozilla Firefox.