The program, still a work in progress, is available for download from the Internet Explorer section of Microsoft's corporate Web site, the company said. The company, which began limited testing in July, had promised to deliver a public beta by the end of March.
"The big update is that it's public," said Margaret Cobb, group product manager for Internet Explorer at Microsoft. "All previous releases were limited."
The latest version works only with Windows XP Service Pack 2 and includes many of the features Microsoft has been touting for months. Among them are new security and privacy protection capabilities such as mechanisms designed to combat phishing attacks, spyware and other threats.
Another new feature lets users clear their browsing history more easily and thus wipe out passwords, form data and cookies in one click, the company said.
The new browser also includes tabbed browsing and a search box on a more streamlined toolbar, concepts that should be familiar to users of Firefox, a rival browser distributed by the Mozilla Foundation.
Microsoft said that the new Printing Enhancements and Shrink to Fit printing features enable users to adjust margins, change the page layout, remove headers or footers, and increase or decrease the print space.
Tabbed browsing lets users open multiple Web pages in a single browser window. Microsoft has tried to best Firefox with something called Quick Tabs. That feature provides an at-a-glance, thumbnail view of all open tabs in a single window.
In addition, the program is supposed to let users more easily subscribe to syndicated feeds from news and sports sites, blogs and stores. The browser detects feeds enabled by Real Simple Syndication, or RSS, technology, illuminating an icon on the toolbar. Users can preview, subscribe and scan syndicated headlines directly through the browser, Microsoft said.
A look at Internet Explorer 7
Microsoft releases beta of latest browser
IE 7 also includes a number of new features for Web developers, including support for up-and-coming Web-programming technologies known collectively as AJAX.
Microsoft plans to release a final version of IE 7 later this year, around the time the company debuts the next version of its Windows operating system, Windows Vista.