Microsoft opened its MIX'08 Web developer conference in Las Vegas on Wednesday with a keynote address by several executives who are key movers behind the company's 'software + services' strategy. But the biggest news of the day was the unveiling of a public beta version of Internet Explorer (IE) 8, Microsoft's upcoming standards-based Web browser.

As with the overall MIX'08 conference, the first IE 8 beta is aimed at developers. Dean Hachamovitch, the general manager of the IE team at Microsoft, presented a list of 8 developer-oriented improvements to the browser. The most important of these, however, Microsoft's decision to make standards-based rendering the default rendering mode, was revealed previous to the show. Some of the other improvements include Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) 2.1 compliance, the start of HTML 5 support, new integrated developer debugging tools, and performance improvements.

Two of the big IE 8 changes introduced at the show will affect how users interact with the browser as well. The first, Activities, adds a Smart Tag-like gadget to Web pages. When a user clicks this gadget, a list of context-sensitive choices appear. Highlight an address, for example, and one of the Activities choices could be a Yahoo! map showing that location. The second new end user feature, Web Slices, let users "subscribe" to parts of Web pages, allowing them to reload just those page parts later. This can be handy for such things as eBay bids and or the current forecast on a weather Web site.

Internet Explorer 8 Beta 1 is currently available from the Microsoft Web site. The installation will replace your current version of IE and is available for Windows XP and Vista (including both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Vista), Windows Server 2003, and Windows Server 2008.

http://www.microsoft.com/windows/products/winfamily/ie/ie8/default.mspx