With the extended period of Developer Previews and betas available at Microsoft's Web site, there was little among the new features which offered much of a surprise. All the features, including Active Channels, a greater degree of customisation, and support for Dynamic HTML, have already been widely reported. Microsoft also claimed significantly faster load times than Netscape Navigator 4.0.
More impressive was the range of industry support that Microsoft has been able to rally behind the product. The company has signed up many of the UK's leading content provider including the BBC, ITN, BSkyB, Capital Radio, the Press Association, the FT, Vogue as well as ZDNet UK to provide 'Channels' on the service.
According to Andrew Lees, Microsoft UK's director product marketing and Internet, IE 4.0 will be shipped by "the top 10 ISPs in the UK which account for around 85 per cent of the dial up market" as the default browser.
There's no escape if you buy a PC either. Company's ranging from Dell, to Gateway to Elonex will be shipping IE 4.0 on their machines, many with their own channels to offer direct technical support to their customers.
Microsoft hopes that this will be the version of Internet Explorer that finally breaks Netscape's grip on the browser market. The emphasis on consumer-based channels for much of the content reveals Microsoft's hopes that the ease of use will allow it to become a mass market product too. We'll know Microsoft has hit its goal when, in the words of the BBC's Edward Briffa, "the Antiques Roadshow gets its own area on the BBC site."