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Microsoft betas tested

The things we do for you, eh?
Wed Mar 15 2006, 15:22
HERE AT INQ TOWERS, we don't know the meaning of the word 'fear'. We also don't know the meaning of 'sobriety', 'exercise', or 'hippopoto monstroses quipedalian', but I digress. Being utterly fearless in our quest to bring you the best news service on the planet [Get on with it - Ed], when a new beta version of something tips up, we simply have to try it, regardless of personal risk.

So it fell to me to try a bunch of new betas available from Microsoft. I have to put my cards on the table here and say that, over the years, I've run just about every beta MS has produced, from operating systems down, and never had a serious problem with them, let alone lost any data. At one point I even ran a beta version of Office XP on an alpha version of Whistler (aka Windows XP), so trying three MS betas at once caused me no concern whatsoever.

The three in question are Internet Explorer 7, OneCare Live and Windows Defender. They've all been around for a while now and I've been living with them for some time. Here are my impressions to date:

This is probably the most important of the three pieces of software and certainly the highest-profile. It introduces a bunch of new features, the most obvious being tabbed browsing, which has been around in rival browsers for some time, as has dealing with RSS feeds. There are some nice bits of added functionality here such as being able to save tab groups as a homepage, so when you fire up the browser, you can open three or four homepages at once, all on their own tabs. There's also a handy QuickTabs feature which is a window containing thumbnails of every open tab in case you can't remember which one's which. At the moment you can't re-order the tabs by dragging them around, or maximise them by double-clicking, but these enhancements are listed on the IE7 forum, so they ought to be putting in an appearance pretty soon.

Obvious bugs include the total inability to move menu and toolbars around properly and an issue with Cascading Style Sheets, but this is a pre-beta and the whole point is to discover all this stuff before the real product hits the streets. Favourites handling has been integrated with browsing history and needs a little more work - for example, you can't right click on the list and sort it by name as you can in IE6. You can, however, do this by opening favourites from the menu bar (which is hidden by default).

Overall it's pretty solid, quick and good-looking. But critics of Microsoft's attitude to security (and I know there's one or two of you out there) will be pleased to hear that, if anything, MS has gone overboard in throwing security features at the new browser and setting IE7 security defaults to suit even the most paranoid tinfoil hat wearer. Also featured is an anti-phishing filter that automagically detects suspicious sites and lets you notify Microsoft of them.


OneCare Live
This little baby runs in the background and provides antivirus protection (both realtime and full system scanning), which seems to work pretty well. It's discovered a couple of nasties here and zapped them in realtime and the background scanning appears faster and less resource-hungry than the increasingly bloated Norton alternative that I used previously. One glaring omission is OneCare's inability to scan incoming emails, which will have to be addressed before OneCare can claim to be a serious rival to the established antivirus products out there, which is why I still run Norton alongside it on the machine that handles my email.

OneCare also does automated system tuning which can be scheduled to clean up the hard disk by deleting things such as temporary files and the browser cache, then running a defrag. The Windows firewall can also be controlled from OneCare, as can automated backups. Virus definitions are downloaded automatically from Microsoft Update.

OneCare will eventually appear as a paid-for service, but Microsoft says it has not determined the exact time frame in which the trial phase of Windows Live OneCare will end nor the pricing structure for the final product. During the beta testing phase, it remains free and you can't argue that that's pretty good value for money.

Windows Defender
Defender is Microsoft's answer to AdAware and was originally called AntiSpyWare. Currently on beta 2, it also runs in the background and can do full system scans. Defender has caught a number of malicious incoming beasties, but its background scanning seems to be less stringent than AdAware's - although Defender reports my system as being clean, an AdAware scan threw up 20 suspicious cookies. None of these were particularly dangerous, but it would be nice to be able to tell Defender to be a little more aggressive in what it flags up.

Like OneCare, Defender is automatically updated from Microsoft Update. The main criticism I have is that it should be part of OneCare rather than a standalone product. The good news is that the forthcoming Defender betas and the final released version all be available free for licensed Windows users. µ


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