You probably haven’t been holding your breath in anticipation of a new version of Internet Explorer. But there is one, and if you’re one of the millions of people who run IE because you like it– or your company’s IT department insists upon it – moving up to IT 11 is painless and worthwhile. In fact, Microsoft will update it for you when it pushes out its normal patches and fixes to Windows 7.
Actually, IE 11 isn’t exactly new. It’s been running on Windows 8 for about a month, but until this week it wouldn’t run on Windows 7. The newest version is pretty much the same as the one for Windows 8, with the obvious difference that it doesn’t include the various features targeted at touchscreen PCs.
IE 11 doesn’t look all that much different than IE 10 – or IE 9, for that matter – but Microsoft has made a number of changes under the hood that the company says speed it up considerably and make it work better with a variety of websites.
Over the years, Microsoft’s IE has gotten a bad rap for its supposed vulnerability to attacks, but that’s no longer the case. A recent test by NSS Labs showed that IE did a better job screening out socially engineered threats than Google’s Chrome, Mozilla’s Firefox and Apple’s Safari browsers. (You can read the NSS report here.)
Socially engineered, in this context, refers to attacks that are used to trick a user into going to a poisoned website or opening an infected file attachment. You might, for example, get a message that seems to come from your bank, telling you to sign into your account via a link in the email. If you do, the malware captures your login information.
To be clear, social engineering is only one form of attack, and that was all that NSS looked at. Still, it’s an indication that IE is no longer easy pickings for the bad guys.
Are the improvements in IE 11 so great that you’d want to switch from another family of browsers? Not really, though there’s no reason not to upgrade if you’re running an older version of Internet Explorer. These days, all the major browsers are more than adequate. Your choice is really a matter of taste and familiarity.
San Francisco journalist Bill Snyder writes frequently about business and technology. His work appears regularly in CIO.com and the publications of Stanford's Graduate School of Business and the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley. He welcomes your comments and suggestions.