Until now, I've concentrated on features of the Windows Surface RT that ease the transition from desktop Windows 7 to the new Windows 8. These include Office; the desktop; programs like Internet Explorer, NotePad, and Paint; and the Ease of Access features. Now that I've had the Surface for over a month, it's time to look at the new Windows 8 apps that I use regularly. Let's start with the new Start screen browser.
Internet Explorer 10
(Screenshot by Tony McSherry/TechRepublic)
IE10 is fast, standards compliant, and the only browser I need. It exists in two versions: one on the Start screen and one on the desktop. The desktop version is very familiar if you've used IE9, but the Start screen IE10 has become my preferred browser. I use it on my Surface and my Windows 8 desktop PC, and I like the fast and simplified UI.
The first thing you notice is the lack of any chrome. The screen is filled with the web page, with no space taken up by UI elements.
(Screenshot by Tony McSherry/TechRepublic)
Swiping from the top or bottom of the screen, or positioning the mouse and right-clicking will display a tab bar at the top and an address input field at the bottom.
At the top, you can create, switch to, or close tabs. You may also create inPrivate tabs, which prevent your browsing history, temporary internet files, form data, cookies, and user names and passwords from being retained by the browser.
At the bottom, you can go back or forward, touch/click/type an address, pin the current page to the Start screen, find text on a page, or view the page in the desktop version (which I've only had to do for one or two pages that use Flash video).
Selecting the current web page address by clicking or touching brings up a horizontally scrolling set of tiles representing your pinned sites and those viewed frequently.
If you position the mouse over the tiles, a scroll bar will appear, or you can use the mouse scroll wheel. Clicking or touching a tile will send you to that page. If you type into the address field, a list of search results will appear, and your address bar will dynamically change with likely addresses as you type.
The address input field also doubles as your Search input field. Simply type in what you are looking for and you'll be taken to a Bing list of search results.
IE10 supports the usual touch UI for web pages, such as zoom pinch, scroll, swipe back and forward, and touch to follow a link. Depending on the web page design, you can often double tap to expand a column to full screen.
While the desktop IE10 has the usual multi-tabbed complexity of Internet Options, the Start screen browser has a limited set of options located under the Settings Charm.
You may delete your browser history, set or clear permissions for sites to use your physical location, zoom the page, turn on flip ahead, and set text encoding and direction.
While IE10 may support HTML 5 adequately, the Start screen IE10 does not support Flash on either Windows 8 or Windows RT. The Windows 8 desktop version does support Flash, but on Windows RT, the desktop IE10 only supports white-listed Flash sites, which are provided by Microsoft during Windows updates.
However, if you are familiar with Regedit, or want to use some of the scripts available on the web, you can add other websites — simply put "Flash in Windows RT" into your favourite search engine.
The Start screen IE10 is a no-plug-in browser. It runs in enhanced protection mode and avoids the common exploits of Java and Flash by simply not having them. The UEFI Secure Boot of Windows 8 computers also ensures that start-up malware won't survive a reboot. The Surface RT will only accept apps from the Windows Store, which are effectively sandboxed, and apps running on the desktop are restricted to Microsoft only applications.
I did notice a recent discovery by a hacker that would allow other applications to run — assuming that they had been recompiled for ARM. However, this does require local admin rights and a debugger to change the Windows kernel, and any alteration won't survive a reboot, so it's still far from jailbroken. In any case, the Start screen IE10 browser is probably as secure as we can get at the moment.
Tony is the owner and managing director of Microcraft eLearning and is one of the creators of the AUTHOR eLearning Development System.