Microsoft released the beta-test version of its next-generation browser, Internet Explorer 5.0, to the public Wednesday -- giving a first glimpse of the features users will see in the final product, due in early 1999.
The company said it made many of the changes in the user interface are based on the perception that Internet access is now far more widespread than when Internet Explorer 4.0 was released, and that more novice surfers than before. As a result, the focus of the new revision has been on streamlining features that were already in place in the earlier version, rather than completely overhauling the application's look and feel. "The new version makes Internet Explorer fundamentally easier and simpler for people to use," said Rob Bennett, group product manager for Microsoft's Applications and Internet Client Group.
In particular, Microsoft said users complained about the ever-increasing size of the application, due to the fact that the IE installer includes such add-ons as an e-mail program and a "push" application. As a result, the company will allow users to update the browser component alone. Some of the new features, including keyword navigation and e-mail synchronisation, resemble features Netscape Communications has built into the most recent version of its competing Navigator browser.
Some of the new browser features include: Keywords. The browser will let users type in a keyword in the address bar, instead of a Web address. The keyword is matched against a directory of commonly-used Web sites hosted on MSN.com, or on a user-specified Web service. The browser can automatically download e-mail for Microsoft or third-party communications applications, including Web-based e-mail. New address window. The present 4.0 browsers complete addresses automatically, once you begin typing. IE 5.0 will instead open a drop-down menu below the address window, listing the sites similar to what the user is typing. Bennett explained that some users were confused by the automatic-completion feature. Search assistant. The feature automatically queries different search engines, depending on whether the user is looking for a Web page, a person's address, an encyclopaedia article, or another category. The user can tell the assistant which search engines to query. Offline use. The browser senses when the user is offline automatically, and acts differently depending on which type of connection used. Previously users had to manually switch the browser from online to offline mode. There's now a "GO" button next to the address bar. Bennett explained that some users were unaware they had to hit "enter" after typing a Web address.