Whatever critics say, there's no doubting that Internet Explorer (IE) 4.0 is impressive software - too impressive, some might say. Web browsers are becoming like the new wave of video recorders: lots of flashing lights and twiddly things, many of which you'll never use, but great for keeping up with the Jones's. Anyway, here are some of the latest features Microsoft reckons will turn IE 4.0 into a world beater.
IE 4.0 claims usability studies have given it the edge where ease-of-use is concerned. Chimpanzees no longer need geological time periods to master it.
Search bar - IE 4.0 displays a search window when users click the search button on the toolbar. The search window displays results independent of the main browser area. The search bar slightly reduces available content area and remains visible until the user presses the search button again.
Each time the user opens the search bar, it displays a list of search engines.
History bar - Selecting the history button from the toolbar displays a history pane in the browser window that shows you the sites you've looked at by day (for the past week), week (for the past month), and by site.
IE 4.0 supports Dynamic HTML, a technology designed to give Web designers more scope for creativity. Netscape doesn't support it so watch out. There could be incompatibility problems.
Improved cascading stylesheets (CSS) - CSS allows Web page designers to place any HTML object anywhere on a page, thus making Web page design more like desk-top publishing.
Users can configure IE 4.0 to download Web sites, then read them while disconnected from the Net. Saves money on phone bills.
Smart caching - Users can surf recently visited sites when disconnected by selecting work offline from the file menu.
Microsoft critics howled after hackers found a way through unsafe computer code and into personal data on PCs. Microsoft has hit back with a radical new concept called Security Zones.
Security Zones allow users and network administrators to designate specific Internet or intranet sites as either "safe" or "unsafe".
Surprise, surprise. IE 4.0 is almost identical in concept to Netscape's Communicator. Like its nemesis, it's a best-of-breed application which combines email, newsgroup reading, chat, Internet telephony and white boarding.
For corporates there are full-scale collaboration tools with groupware functionality. These include forms applications, workflow, group calendar and scheduling, group voting, routing and much more.
Outlook express - an InBox Assistant lets users develop email rules for each ISP account, which identify their mail to help save time and stay organised.
Migration tools automatically detect and enable importing of Netscape, Eudora email and address books.
HTML mail lets you send Web pages in email messages.
NetShow 2.0 - Networked multimedia software brings broadcasting to the Web, enabling users to view and listen to live or recorded broadcasts without waiting for downloads or slowing down network performance.
Watch as the Web gets more like cable TV. IE 4.0 users will select from channels which can be configured to update themselves.
Microsoft is making deals left, right and centre to make sure that all the best content is available.
Ziff Davis, publisher of many popular computer magazines, is rumoured to be the first UK channel, while negotiations with major newspapers are said to be underway.
IE 4.0 STATUS REPORT
Status: Second beta available but unstable. Meant for developers only
Platform: Windows 95, Windows NT 4.0, Mac (from 30-90 days after Windows 95/NT
Release: Summer 1997
WHAT WE LIKED BEST
HTML mail: Now you can send and read Web pages in your email
Search Bar: Opens a new window so you can see search results and Web sites at the same time
History Bar: View previously visited sites by day, week or by site
Dynamic HTML: Will make Web page layout more flexible, but it's likely to have compatibility problems with Netscape.
Could be used for everything from search-and-rescue robots to wearable tech
Don't require the rare material being mined from the mountains of South America
IBM hopes that its new tool will avoid bias in artificial intelligence
Found by calculating the strength of the material deep inside the crust of neutron stars