By Internet Correspondent Chris Nuttall
Microsoft has launched a new version of the most popular software for accessing the World Wide Web.
Internet Explorer 5.0 (IE5) looks the same as the 4.0 version released two years ago, but useful new features are hidden just a click away.
Microsoft claimed, at a news conference for the UK launch, that IE5 was smaller, faster and better, as well as superior to its rivals, notably Netscape's Communicator product.
Explorer is still free and was made available worldwide on the Web on Thursday in Windows NT, 3.1, 95 and 98 versions. There are also Solaris and HP-UX flavours and a Mac upgrade will be available in the summer.
The new features include:
Neil Laver, Microsoft's UK Internet Product Manager said about 1.6 million copies of the program would be distributed on CDs cover-mounted on computer magazines in the next month.
- Intellisense - the browser anticipates what is being typed in URL, search and other fields and auto-completes details such as a name and address. Users have expressed some privacy concerns that hackers could access the file on their personal computers that contains their details. Microsoft says the file is scrambled and the feature can be turned off.
- A "Related" feature, which suggests Websites related to the one you are looking at - powered by Alexa, which developed the service.
- An improved History file, which can be sorted to help find previously-visited sites and even be searched.
- Hotmail subscribers should now be able to send and download their e-mail in Outlook Express and read it offline.
- A radio toolbar which allows you to select radio stations to listen to over the Net as you browse pages. The BBC World Service is one of six UK-based stations offered. Microsoft's Media Player provides the audio and, not to be outdone, RealNetworks announced a similar toolbar for IE5 on Thursday.
- Microsoft says it provides the broadest standards support of any browser, in particular for XML - the Extensible Mark-Up Language that helps to better organise data.
- The basic browser takes up only 6.5mb compared to 14mb for IE4 and is said to be 25% faster.
In the United States, the Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates told a news conference that IE5 would also be included in an upgrade to the Windows 98 Operating System due in the autumn.
IE5 has less emphasis on the Active Desktop concept of IE4 which integrated the browser with the Operating System. That integration has been challenged in the anti-monopoly court case being fought against Microsoft by the Department of Justice.
There are also no changes to the channels idea of pushing information at Net users, suggesting this is dying a death in terms of popular use.