Microsoft has also added a tranche of communication and collaboration tools to IE 4.0. Outlook Express, previously known as Internet Mail and News, lets users search for e-mail addresses through BigFoot or similar engines without leaving the mail facility. NetMeeting 2.0 now supports the H.323 videoconferencing standard and NetShow allows the broadcast of presentations.
Microsoft has also embraced the push-pull trend with Premium Channels, whereby users can select favourite Web sites and receive information at preset times. Subscriptions let users sign up for content to be pushed out to the desktop. Information can then be viewed on or off-line to save connection fees.
Finally, IE 4.0 will be integrated into the Windows desktop to a far greater extent than before. A Start button is added to Web browsing, there's a URL in the My Computer toolbar and toolbars change to reflect whether users are searching locally or across the Web.
The Windows 95 Explorer takes on a number of Web metaphors, with files acting like hyperlinks. Microsoft also demoed the Active Desktop, the means by which users can set icons on their desktop which are linked to pushed content.
The platform preview will be posted to Microsoft's Web site in March with a public beta to follow. The full product will be available "some time around the middle of the year," said Jeremy Gittins, Internet Platforms product manager. The software will remain free: "It's priced to sell," quipped Gittins.
Microsoft can be contacted by telephone on 0345-002000.