The beta release of Microsoft?s Internet Explorer 5.0 browser borrows some innovations from its newly released rival, Netscape Communicator 4.5, while offering some twists of its own.
Borrowing a page from Netscape?s book, Microsoft is offering ways to integrate the browser with specific Web sites. But while Netscape has tied Communicator 4.5 into its own Netcenter portal site, Microsoft is taking a more open approach.
Like Communicator, IE 5 allows users to perform Web searches by typing the search term right into the browser?s URL window.
The browser?s search button opens a separate pane in the browser, giving the user fast access to multiple search engines as well as to white and yellow pages directories.
Content providers and portal sites can develop their own extensions to IE 5, called 'Internet Explorer Web Accessories'. Microsoft?s own MSN portal service will offer such extensions, as well as Bloomberg Financial Markets and the 'New York Times' Web site. Bloomberg will offer users stock quotes in a separate pane within the browser.
MSN will feature a special toolbar that integrates with the browser interface and gives users direct access to MSN features such as email and stock quotes.
Internet Explorer 5 also offers a set of technologies designed to simplify certain Web browsing activities, grouped under the name Intellisense. These include a feature that corrects often-made mistakes when typing in URLs.
One party that has expressed criticism of IE 5 is the Web Standards Project, a lobby group of Web designers. George Olsen, a project leader for the Project, said the current beta is not fully compliant with standards such as Cascaded Style Sheets (CSS), which Microsoft officially endorses.
But Olsen concedes that IE 5 does better than its predecessor, the current IE 4, in implementing standards. ?The good news is that some of the [issues] have been fixed," said Olsen. He said he hoped the final shipping product will live up to Microsoft?s promise of full compliance.
The Web Standards Project has uttered similar criticism of Netscape Communicator.
Microsoft has released IE 5 beta versions for Windows 95, Windows 98, NT, Windows 3.2 and Solaris. It is available for free download from http://www.microsoft.com/windows/ie.
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