With Internet Explorer (IE) 5.0, Microsoft hopes to eliminate some of the browser complexity that it introduced with IE 4.0.
To that end, Internet Explorer 5.0, released in its first wide beta on Wednesday, will incorporate the IntelliSense technology found in the Office desktop suite, add refined search capabilities, automate several features, and add a Windows Synchronisation Manager to better organise offline browsing.
Internet Explorer 4.0, released in September 1997, was aimed at making the Internet as ubiquitous as possible for the user, said product manager Mike Nichols. In the process, though, many of that version's features -- such as Channels, integrated search features, and myriad folders and favorites -- made the browser much bigger and, for some, more cumbersome to use.
"Once we were on the Web, it became all about making it way easier to use," Nichols said.
Internet Explorer 5.0, which has no significant user interface changes from the previous version, is expected to ship in the first quarter of 1999. Microsoft also released betas of IE 5.0 for the Windows 3.x platform and one flavor of Unix, Sun Solaris; versions for the Macintosh and HP-UX are on the horizon, Nichols said.
The offering will include "Web Accessories" from content partners, customizable bars that will reside at the bottom of the user's screen. Four partners -- The New York Times, The Microsoft Network, Bloomberg Financial Services, and Alexa Internet -- put out beta versions of their Web Accessories. Users will have to download a small bit of software from content providers to use the Web Accessories, Nichols said.
IE 5.0 will also include a number of other new features.
--A Search Assistant that automatically finds the appropriate search engine when a user has a specific item in mind, such as a Web page, e-mail address, or map, as well as a "Next" button that runs the same search through several engines;
--"add" and "organise" options for the Favorites file;
--simplified error messages; and
--expanded "AutoComplete" capabilities.
For developers, who received a Technology Preview of IE 5.0 in June, the beta includes enhanced Extensible Markup Language (XML) support, including the abilities to natively render documents in XML, and to intermix XML and other formats, such as HTML.
Also included is a beta of the newest version of the Internet Explorer Administration Kit, which helps IT managers configure and distribute the browser throughout a corporation.