After finally getting the new Internet Explorer 8 beta installed (demands to upgrade Windows, verify Windows, sigh), I spent some time playing with the new search functionality and checking to see if Microsoft was going to try to stack the deck in its favor with the new browser. So far, it remains pretty even handed. Indeed, so far, Microsoft seems kind of lame given that there are some cool search features you’re hard pressed to locate. Let’s take a tour.
After installing the software, I’m asked if I want to use "Express Settings" or to make active choices:
Notice that Live Search is set to be my search provider if I go with Express Settings. This is good if whatever is already your default provider in IE7 is retained. In other words, if my default was Google, then I’m happy if Express Settings retains that. But I couldn’t tell this with my initial testing. That’s because in IE7, Live Search was my default provider already. It’s very, very bad if by "Express," IE8 simply changes things to be Live Search. I’ll try to test this more later.
Since I went for the "Choose my settings" option, I next got a screen like this, asking me to select a search provider:
As mentioned, In IE7, my default provider was Live Search already. This fact is highlighted for me, but I have to make a conscious choice to keep my default or select a different option. This is identical to how Internet Explorer 7 works. A screenshot from when IE7 first launched:
As I said when this behavior came in with IE7, I think asking people to make a choice is fine. Sure, Microsoft hopes they’ll change a few minds. But if your default choice was already Google, that’s not changed against your will. Indeed, the process is more open than Firefox, which does nothing to highlight the fact that a default provider has already been selected for you (see Hey Firefox - Let Us Pick Our Own Search Engine! for more about that).
I chose to select from a list of other providers, and then it seemed like nothing happened. Instead, I got more screens to configure other options, then I got a welcome page that appeared:
Look at the top. It took me some time to realize that way back when I said I wanted to choose a search provider, IE8 opened a tab (see the Add Search Provider one, second from the left) allowing me to pick from this page that has no particular favoritism.
I’d have preferred if this page was made more visible as part of the initial configuration. I mean, here I am deliberately watching for such an option, and I missed it. I’d assume many ordinary consumers would miss it as well.
What do the choices do for you? As with IE7, IE8 has a search box in the top right hand side of the browser:
The choices allow you to add more search engines to that box or change whatever is the default there:
After selecting Google and making it my default, the box changes:
So far, there’s nothing that dramatic or new. But I’d read in various places about how that search box was supposed to have some cool "visual" or thumbnail search options. Where were these? Nothing I went through at installation prompted me to add them, nor did any of the search settings within IE8 seem to point you at them.
In the end, it was via the official Internet Explorer blog where I found them. The post about IE8′s beta illustrated some of these Visual Search choices and linked to some from the New York Times and Amazon but oddly not to the main home page containing all of them.
If you want them all, find them here:
I can swear that when I originally looked, Google wasn’t one of the options. Maybe I missed it. Regardless, Google’s certainly there now. And while Yahoo is featured in that screenshot, the option rotates — Wikipedia appeared when I later looked.
If you add one of these and already have the "non-visual" version in your toolbar, you’ll get a choice to either replace that with the new one or have both.
What’s supposed to happen is that when you have some of these options, they’ll preload results as you type. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get this feature to work — not even with the exact same search providers and search terms illustrated in the IE8 blog post.
Somewhat related to search is the "InPrivate" blocking feature which is designed to limit or prevent sites from tracking you across the web. Somewhat related because there have been some reports that with this feature enabled, ads are blocked on sites – and some of those could be Google AdSense ads.
I can’t confirm any of this because as far as I can tell, InPrivate isn’t enabled by default in my version of IE8 nor is there anyway to enable it, that I can tell. The IE8 blog talks about the feature, but heck if I can get it going. When and if I can, I’ll look at the blocking in more detail.
In general, as a site publisher, I’d prefer that a browser does not block ads by default. Ads are a major way that we and other sites pay for the content we publish freely online. Some might also see any default ad blocking as a way for Microsoft to somehow take a swing at Google through its browser. If so, then Microsoft would be swinging against itself, too – since it has major online ad aspirations.
My expectation would be that ad blocking is not a default option and that in the case of cross-site scripting protection, we might see the ability for trusted sites to be excluded from blocking (if that’s not already in there).
Postscript: I did a reinstallation of IE8, and now I can see some of the features that were missing above.
In order to enable the InPrivate Blocking of ads, you first have to enable InPrivate Browsing (from the menu bar, select Tools, then InPrivate Browsing). Only after that can you turn on ad blocking (from the menu bar, select Tools, then InPrivate Blocking).
I found a number of reassuring things. For one, starting up InPrivate Browsing opens up an entire new window. Not only is it NOT ON by default but it’s also more of a "special use" behavior. Then, the actual third party site blocking within the new window also has to be enabled. That’s two steps to jump through in order to block ads or other third party content.
I surfed to probably 30 or so different sites, with more than 10 of them carrying AdSense, and didn’t find that any AdSense units were blocked. Heck, I didn’t see if any ads were blocked. I can’t tell if other third party scripts such as Google Analytics or Quantcast were blocked, however.
In general, I don’t see too much to worry about that the blocking will wipe out internet advertising or valuable tracking services, not as implemented. Instead, the tools require several hoops to jump through but for those who want an added level of privacy, they can get it.
I would like to see the tools show you everything that’s blocked, however. There’s supposed to be visual representation of content that’s removed on pages, but tracking services like Google Analytics have no visual cues that would get replaced. Nothing within the InPrivate settings window seems to provide this type of display.
For more about how the two services work, see these two posts from Microsoft:
As for visual search, well, I still can’t get that to work as described.