Microsoft released Internet Explorer 8.0 (IE 8.0) beta 1 today, available via a download page. This beta is aimed squarely at website developers, but on Microsoft's IE 8.0 blog, the company encourages anyone to try it out. Update, January 27 2009: Internet Explorer 8.0 review.

You might want to proceed with caution before trying IE 8.0, though. I forged ahead and installed the beta - and I experienced more browser crashes during my hands-on than ever before. Prior to installing the IE 8.0 beta, I had IE 7.0 happily running along.

So far, I think I've confirmed a known issue between my Google and Yahoo Toolbars and IE 8.0. My colleague, Harry McCracken, has also installed the IE 8.0 beta, and his only crashes came when he, too, installed the Google Toolbar. Stay tuned for further reports the more we at PC World use IE 8.0 - I'm personally looking forward to giving WebSlices a spin.

New features

Microsoft touts many new features in the IE 8.0 beta - among them, Automatic Crash Recovery (ACR). As a regular user of both IE and Mozilla Firefox, I applaud the inclusion of ACR. One can find many things to like about Firefox, but for me, I routinely come back to that browser's super-handy ability to resume a browsing session. I tend to have multiple windows or tabs open at once, and nothing is worse than trying to have to figure out where, exactly, you were on various websites.

According to Microsoft, ACR can recover browser tabs to 'prevent the loss of work and productivity in the unlikely event of the browser crashing or hanging'. Unfortunately, I experienced plenty of browser crashes and hanging in my use of the IE 8.0 beta, as installed on Windows XP with Service Pack 2 with Google and Yahoo Toolbars installed.

I began by installing the 14.4MB program file. After a system reboot, I could jump in and access IE 8.0 beta. Immediately, I was greeted by a welcome splash screen which prompted me to select the express settings or choose my own settings.

My 'express settings' showed Google as my search provider; and activity providers as Windows (Blog with Windows Live Spaces, Map with Live Maps, Define with Encarta, Translate with Windows Live, Send with Windows Live Hotmail); the safety filter, which protects against malware and keeps data 'safer' from fraudulent websites and phishing scams, was set to 'on' (recommended).

Selecting 'choose my settings' opened up a slew of options. I decided I wanted to select from a list of search providers, and to go online to add more activity providers - which, in Microsoft's definition, enhance your ability to work with text that you select on a web, so you can map addresses and define words, for example.

Next, I got to choose whether I wanted IE as my default browser, and if so, then choose the favourites, feeds, and extensions you want to import from Firefox (and favourites and feeds from Safari).