Microsoft on Monday shipped Internet Explorer (IE) 8 Release Candidate 1 (RC1), a near final version of its next Web browser. The RC1 version of IE 8 adds a few new features and is, in Microsoft's words, platform complete.
"Internet Explorer 8 is effectively complete and done," Microsoft general manager Dean Hachamovitch wrote in a blog post announcing the release. "We've listened very carefully to feedback from the betas. With the Release Candidate, we're listening carefully for critical issues \[only\]."
Changes in RC1 include a new Compatibility View Updates features that automatically bypasses IE 8's new standards-based rendering mode for poorly-behaved Web sites, some UI improvements around the Favorite Bar and Address Bar, various privacy and security improvements, and more. IE 8 RC1 is available for Windows XP, Vista, 2003, and 2008, but not for the Windows 7 Beta; Microsoft says that an updated IE 8 version will be provided "with the next update of Windows 7."
From a compatibility and performance perspective, IE 8 RC1 is a big improvement over its Beta 2 predecessor, which shipped back in August 2008. (Microsoft shipped a first beta version in March 2008.)
The question, of course, is whether these improvements will be enough. The browser is being released in the midst of a steady downturn in IE 8 usage, with the browser falling below 70 percent market share for the first time in almost decade. Also, the European Commission has issued a preliminary ruling against Microsoft in which it has asked the software giant to stop bundling IE with Windows. Microsoft currently plans to include IE 8 in Windows 7, and it's unclear how the EC action will affect those plans.
For more information about IE 8 RC1, please refer to my review on the SuperSite for Windows.