Microsoft announced that it has made the final version of Internet Explorer 8 available. The general public can begin downloading IE8 at microsoft.com\/ie8 at 12:00 pm EST today.In a release, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said: "Customers have made clear what they want in a Web browser \u2014 safety, speed and greater ease of use. With Internet Explorer 8, we are delivering a browser that gets people to the information they need, fast, and provides protection that no other browser can match.\u201dThere was widespread speculation that Microsoft would release IE8 sometime this month. One site, TechARP.com, which has named the release dates for Windows editions in the past, correctly predicted today's IE8 final release date of March 19. Through the two betas of IE8 and the RC1 (release candidate 1) in late January, Microsoft has been touting the new and enhanced security and browsing features of IE8 as well as its speed compared to other browsers such as Firefox, Apple's Safari and Google's Chrome. Between RC1 and this final release, Microsoft did extra performance testing and bug fixes, but did not add any new browsing and security\/privacy features, says Amy Barzdukas, Microsoft's senior director of Internet Explorer.Regarding IE8's security compared to IE7, Barzdukas says that IE8 is notably better because of the anti-malware that's built in to IE8's beefed up Smartscreen, which is a filter that blocks imposter sites that may download malicious software."While IE7 had a phishing filter, it did not have anti-malware incorporated into the Smartscreen filter that way IE8 does. That's a significant advantage," Barzdukas says.Barzdukas added that Microsoft strongly encourages that enterprises get off Internet Explorer 6 and move to a modern browser like IE8 for its security features such as Automatic Crash Recovery and the Smartscreen Filter. Also for enterprises, Barzdukas emphasized IE8's group policy support that allows IT managers to establish and enforce rules that prevent users from switching off a phishing filter or getting tricked into downloading malware."IE8 has now more than 1400 group policy rules, where Firefox has about 15, and you only get those after installing a third-party plug-in," she says. Barzdukas also mentioned that "significantly more" third parties will be supporting Web Slices and Accelerators, two popular IE8 browsing features that allow users to access information without leaving the browser. Web Slices in particular are not supported by many other sites in IE8 RC1. A few examples of sites that do have Web Slice functionality are eBay, Digg and Facebook.IE8 will also be available from Microsoft's main download center starting today. It is available for Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows Server and in 25 languages, with additional languages to come. Windows 7 beta users will not see the final version of IE8 until Microsoft delivers the next public release of the operating system.Microsoft will showcase the final IE8 browser and outline benefits and opportunities for customers on March 19 at Microsoft's MIX09 conference for Web designers and developers in Las Vegas.