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Gates looks beyond IE 5 release

Calls IE 5 launch a 'big milestone' and expounds on his views of the future of the Net.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Microsoft Corp. CEO Bill Gates used Microsoft's Internet Explorer 5.0 launch more to expound on his views of the central importance of the Internet to Microsoft than to highlight the updated browser's latest and greatest features.

Gates called the IE 5.0 launch "a big milestone" for the company. He told the press and Web/satellite viewers who participated in yesterday's launch that IE 5.0 speaks directly "to the mission all of Microsoft is focused on today, taking the Internet and combining it with software. What the Internet plus great software can do is driving all our activities."

Still, there were a couple of surprise announcements at the launch. One was that all of the top portal vendors, except Netscape Communications Corp.'s NetCenter, will deliver customised versions of IE 5.0 for download. Gates also confirmed that Microsoft will make IE 5.0 available as part of its forthcoming Windows 98 Second Edition release this autumn. This was first reported by ZDNet's sister publication in the US, Sm@rt Reseller. The company will offer Win 98 2E on new holiday PCs as a preload and at retail for the same price that Windows 98 sells today. Windows 98 Second Edition is the new name for the Windows 98 Service Pack 1 combined with Windows 98 OEM Service Release 1. Microsoft previously had said the OEM Service Release was due to ship in Q1, a date which recently had slipped to Q'2.

Gates used this morning's platform to delve into further details of his "Web Lifestyle" and "Web Workstyle" concepts. He cited statistics showing that while Internet users today use the Web for everything from playing games (an activity engaged in by 29 percent of the 163 million Web users worldwide) to shopping (done by 10 percent of all Web users), the largest percentage of Web users rely on the Internet for e-mail only.

Gates said for any changes to occur in Web usage patterns, the entire industry must be engaged. "We need to Web-enable not just the PC, but other devices" and applications as well. Microsoft is attempting to do its part by making IE 5.0 "the fastest modern browser," Gates said. Microsoft's goal, he told launch participants, is to ensure that Windows 98 Second Edition, which will include all of the Internet Explorer 5.0 bits, will put users online in less than 15 minutes from the time of installation. He said the forthcoming Windows release also will include Internet Connect Sharing technology under development at Microsoft, which will enable home users to share a single modem or Internet account in a networked home configuration.

Gates also highlighted a new capability that provides synchronisation and integration between MSN HotMail and Outlook Express. HotMail today provides no rich editing or offline capabilities, but does provide instantaneous access regardless of platform. By combining HotMail's front end with Outlook Express's back end, Microsoft is trying to combine the best of both worlds, he said.

Gates said the introduction of IE 5.0, when coupled with advances in PCs and Internet technologies, could enable a whole new set of consumer scenarios in the not-too-distant future. These include new uses and platforms for Web audio, digital video, Internet telephony, the purchase of digital goods, online reading of electronic books and improvements in the digital home.

He told attendees to "keep in mind that the PC itself will be changing a lot." He said new form-factor, screen-based devices with built-in handwriting recognition are just around the corner, as are subsets of these devices that take the form of phones, digital cameras, pagers and set top boxes which "all will have browsing capabilities built in."

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