Microsoft plans to release a beta version of Internet Explorer 4.0, which is slated to become the universal GUI for all of Microsoft's applications, by the end of the year.
The final version of this upgrade is expected to ship by the first quarter of 1997, a little more than six months after Microsoft delivers Internet Explorer 3.0, which is due to ship soon.
Internet Explorer 4.0 will go into Beta 1 release by December and will be positioned as the dominant GUI for accessing the file systems of Windows 95, Windows NT, and remote Web servers.
The new GUI will support Microsoft's ActiveX technologies. It represents the delivery of the company's Nashville technologies, which have been through several evolutions during Microsoft's conversion to the Internet cause.
Sources inside the company have also confirmed that Internet Explorer 4.0 will be made available as a stand-alone Web browser. In both of its incarnations, however, Version 4.0 of Internet Explorer will have its own development cycle, separate from the development cycle of the underlying operating system.
"What they have done is decouple the OS from the GUI," says Rob Enderle, an analyst for the Santa Clara, California-based Giga Information Group. "Your OS, your kernel, is on a two-year development schedule, while the GUI is on a much faster schedule."
By speeding up the development cycle of a decoupled Internet browser and GUI, Enderle says, Microsoft will be able to not only keep up with the high-speed development stream from Internet rival Netscape Communications, but also stay within a comfortable distance of hardware vendors.
"Even if you could speed up the OS development cycle, you wouldn't want to," Enderle says. "The OS cycle has to move slower because the hardware vendors can't keep up."
The implementation of Internet Explorer 4.0 as the GUI for Win95 and NT users will also allow users to switch their OS from Win95 to NT with little or no disruption of user routines, Enderle says.
"If you migrate people from 95 to NT because you need a more robust system, you can do so, and your people won't even see it happen," Enderle says. "You won't have to do any of the crap you used to have to go through when migrating users from one system to the other."
The universal GUI -- when delivered -- will fulfill Microsoft's plan to merge the GUIs of NT and Win95 into a single format.
Sources inside the company say users of Windows 95 will be able to download Internet Explorer 4.0 from the company's Web site when it is released in its beta form. The sources also say that the Web site would be a distribution point for the final shipping product.
Microsoft is already planning a major upgrade to Windows 95, slated for sometime next year, called Windows 97 and code-named Memphis.
Version 4.0 of Windows NT will ship next quarter, well before the shipping version of Nashville.