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IE 8 released, made available on Web

Microsoft Thursday released Internet Explorer 8, the next version of its Web browser that includes a number of corporate features, including tools to customize and control the software via centralized policies.

In addition, the browser has new privacy and security features and integration with Microsoft’s System Center Configuration Manager to ease deployment.

“We understand the browser is a central part of the IT infrastructure,” said James Pratt, senior product manager for IE.

The long anticipated browser will be available via the Web starting at noon EDT. The browser runs on Windows XP, Vista and Windows Server and is available in 25 languages.

Microsoft’s Dean Hachamovitch, who leads the IE 8 development team, will make the announcement today during his keynote address at the company’s MIX09 conference going on in Las Vegas.

The release of IE8 comes as Microsoft is losing small bits of market share to competitors Firefox, Safari and Chrome, and amid rumors that Microsoft is working to replace the browser’s rendering engine with a project coming out of Microsoft Research called Gazelle.

Microsoft officials would not comment on the future roadmap for IE.

“We are happy with the product that we shipped,” said Pratt. “There is not anything else to talk about at this time.”

IE 8 includes a number of usability features, including Accelerators and Slices designed to streamline end-user navigation.

The hallmark, however, may be that Microsoft is touting IE8 as its first standards compliant browser, including support for Cascading Style Sheets 2.1. But given the need for backward compatibility with older IE versions, IE 8 includes a standards mode and an IE 7 mode so users can render sites built to the specifications of the previous IE version. Microsoft has included an “auto render” feature that works off a list of Web sites known to have issues rendering in IE 8. When those Web sites are visited, the browser defaults to IE 7 rendering.

The browser includes a number of new security features including a Smart Screen Filter to detect phishing attacks, private browsing and technology to prevent clickjacking.

The Smart Screen can be controlled via one of 1,400 group policies that are set in Active Directory. The policy for the Smart Filter prevents end-users from visiting any site identified as a potential phishing site.

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