A quick guide to IE8’s new features – Activites and WebSlices

With the release of Internet Explorer 8 beta 1 this week, MS debuted a few new features for the browser. Not only is it more standards compliant etc (read about all the features here), there are two major features which developers can utilise to make web sites and services more accessible through IE8. I’m talking about Activites and WebSlices.

Activities is a browser feature where you can right-click on the page and bring up a context-sensitive menu where you can perform actions based on the content of the page. You can also select some text, say the address of a restaurant, and a drop-down menu will appear with options for a map or wikipedia entry. You can also get a preview of the resulting page if you hover over the link.

Activities


The best thing about activities is that anyone can define them. They’re installable XML files which define aspects of the activity. As far as I can see they’re like firefox extensions but only for the right-click/context-sensitive menu and they seem really easy to make. If you want to know how to develop them, read the whitepaper.

WebSlices are mini-RSS feeds that integrate with the favourites bar (now a permenant fixture) allowing users to “discover” areas of web sites where they can get regular updates of small parts of a site. The example MS are using is an auction site where you can watch an individual item.

WebSlices

The code behind this uses CSS selectors and special keywords to describe the content. It’s easy enough to implement but I’m unsure as to how many sites will be able to do it without the risk of upsetting a site’s CSS stylings. I’ll put an example of a web slice-able section up when I get a few minutes (if you want a go yourself, read the whitepaper).

So, IE8 is doing well, seems to be some good reaction to it, but it does definitely need some work (:hover class it a bit buggered). I’m looking forward to see it develop.

Steve

UPDATE: IE Blog has done a mini-article on this same subject.

Currently Listening to: We Are Scientists – Brain Thrust Mastery (brilliant album)
Currently Watching: Top Gear on Dave
Currently Eating: the week’s left-overs
Currently Reading: IE8 white papers!
Current stage of re-design: on paper

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Steve Workman

Steve Workman is the Head of Web Engineering at Yell. He is also an organiser for London Web Standards is an occasional public speaker, talking about web performance and web standards

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