Microsoft will release its newest web browser, Internet Explorer 8 (IE 8), today at 12pm EST, for users of Windows Server 2008, Windows Vista, Windows XP, and Windows Server 2003. The application will also be included with Windows 7, the next version of Microsoft's client OS, which is due in third quarter 2009. Microsoft describes IE 8 as faster, more secure, more reliable, and more functional than its predecessor, and these claims have been borne out in my own testing. The question about IE 8, however, is whether it can best competing browsers from Mozilla and Google.

"Customers have made clear what they want in a web browser—safety, speed, and greater ease of use," said Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. "With Internet Explorer 8, we're delivering a browser that gets people to the information they need, fast, and provides protection that no other browser can match."

IE 8 includes a pervasive set of security controls, and Microsoft claims that the browser is two to four times more effective at preventing malware attacks than other browsers are. The company told me that one in 40 users of pre-release IE 8 versions since Beta 2 were saved from potential malware attacks because of this functionality.

Although most web browser users expect certain levels of security, reliability, and performance, IE 8 really shines with its in-application functionality. The browser offers visual search capabilities (which let you see images in the drop-down search box), new features such as Web Slices and Accelerators (which let users interact with web sites and services in new and interesting ways), and an evolution of tabbed browsing that colorizes related tabs and provides a way to get back to previously visited sites that are inadvertently closed.

IE 8 is also far more compliant with existing web standards than previous IE versions are, although it arguably falls short of the competition in this area. The browser can also render web sites like IE 7 if necessary, and do so automatically, providing users with seamless web compatibility. As sites are updated to work with IE 8's standards-based rendering mode, the browser will switch over silently, with no user intervention required.

IE 8 will be available in 25 languages at noon today. For more information—and for the free download—please visit the Microsoft web site.

My review of IE 8 will appear over the course of the day on the SuperSite for Windows. The first two parts are already available.