IE 4: A fundamental shift?

If Microsoft would have you take away just one insight from Tuesday's debut of Internet Explorer 4.0, it would be this: The company's new browser will fundamentally change the way users surf the Web and access their files.

Of course, the reality doesn't match the exalted hype. But whatever the excesses trumpeted by Microsoft's marketing machine, IE 4.0 is different. The product merges the Internet browser with the operating system, making IE 4 the browser for both local and Web content.

How will users react? In a poll of more than 8,000 readers, only 28 percent thought IE 4.0 would be the browser to end all browsers. But while the people's choice may remain Netscape Navigator, an increasing number of Web users are clearly moving to Internet Explorer.

On the eve of Microsoft's rollout of its newest browser upgrade, a study from Zona Research reports that 36 percent of the companies surveyed now use IE as their primary browser.

What's more, the big money is in the corporate world and that's where Microsoft has trained its guns. Microsoft is gaining ground - and fast - in the world of IT, or information technology, where the big dollar investments in computer equipment get made.

By contrast, consider that only 18 months ago, the Redmond, Wash., company's share of the browser market was just 3 percent, according to Zona.

In part, the sharp growth of IE is the natural result of Microsoft's decision to make it part of Windows 95. IE's popularity has also benefited from the company's marketing muscle with Microsoft pushing IE in front of millions of new users thanks to new partnerships with ISPs.

Over that same period, Netscape Navigator's share of the market has declined to 62 percent from 70 percent. Will the current trend continue? Not if Netscape has any say in the matter. And company CEO Jim Barksdale has a couple of choice descriptions of all the new bells and whistles adorning IE 4.0.

But there's plenty of new stuff for users to consider. And no doubt, Microsoft CEO Bill Gates will take his time to point out how it all fits together Tuesday night when he takes the wraps off IE 4 at a gala rollout of IE 4.0 in San Francisco.


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