Microsoft eyes Unix version of Internet Explorer

Microsoft is investigating whether to partner with a software vendor or to develop on its own a version of its Internet Explorer browser for the Unix operating system, a company product manager says.

Just ahead of Microsoft's posting yesterday of the latest beta version of its 32-bit Internet Explorer for Windows 95 and Windows NT 4.0, Steven Guggenheimer, product manager for Internet Explorer, acknowledged a pursuit of a Unix version of IE.

"We're looking into a Unix-based IE. We're talking with partners. We need to find the best strategy, whether it's ourselves or others," he says.

For most of its history as a software developer, Microsoft has avoided any connection to Unix products, and its Windows NT operating system products are designed as a RISC-based alternative to the myriad versions of Unix.

Earlier this month, Steve Ballmer, Microsoft executive vice-president, hinted at the reasoning behind the move to produce a browser for Unix-based workstations: Lack of a Unix browser was hindering the company's OEM-based strategy for catching up with Netscape Communications, whose Navigator products holds some 85% of the worldwide market for World Wide Web browsers. Microsoft has been dealing with PC and workstation makers to have Internet Explorer bundled with new hardware.

"We might just have to get one of those," Ballmer says of a Unix-based browser.

For now, Microsoft's Internet Explorer 3.0 beta 1 is available only on such 32-bit platforms as Windows 95 and Windows NT, says Guggenheimer. Visitors to Microsoft's home page at http://www.microsoft.com can download at no cost the latest version of Internet Explorer, which supports ActiveX technologies and recognises OCX controls.

Beta 1 also supports the DocObject specification to allow applications to appear inside frames within the browser so that users can, among other things, simultaneously view a word processor or spreadsheet document from their HTML browsers. And beta 1 supports the Visual Basic Script and JavaScript programming languages, says Guggenheimer.

Microsoft also plans to release Internet Explorer 3.0 betas for the Macintosh and Windows 3.1 in six to eight weeks, says Guggenheimer. At that time, it will also release a second beta for 32-bit platforms that partially supports Java applications, he says.

The current beta also includes a tool called NetMeeting to provide communications features such as Internet telephony, application sharing, and whiteboard functions. Just last week Microsoft released the final version of Internet Explorer 2.0, which is also available free from the Microsoft home page.

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