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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 April 2006, 09:07 GMT 10:07 UK
Microsoft expands browser testing
Bill Gates in Vietnam
The new browser is due out around the same time as Windows Vista
Microsoft has moved a step closer to finishing a new version of its popular Internet Explorer browser.

The software giant has released a revised test version of Internet Explorer 7 (IE 7).

It is offering free telephone support to consumers in the US, Germany and Japan who decide to try it out.

Microsoft is facing growing competition from browsers such as Firefox which already offer advanced functions such as tabbed browsing.

The final version of IE 7 is expected to be released in the second half of this year.

Reliability testing

In the past, Microsoft has only encouraged developers to test beta versions of IE 7. But it is now looking to computer users to help iron out any problems with the browser.

"We believe that IE 7, even at this beta stage, is a significant improvement and we want as many people as possible to try it and use it," said the browser development team in a post on its blog.

"IE 7 is feature complete and has been through significant compatibility and reliability testing. People (especially technology enthusiasts) will have a good experience with it," continued the post.

Microsoft said the new version addresses some problems affecting banking and news sites.

It is also designed to be more secure than the current version, with built-in protection against malicious software and online phishing scams.

Browser rivalry

While the new beta software is more polished than previous versions, consumers are advised that it is still a test version and could cause glitches with other software.

Internet Explorer is the most widely used web browser.

But its market share has been eroded by the appearance of new browsers such as Firefox and Opera which are seen as more secure.

According to some estimates, Firefox is used by just over 10% of internet surfers

IE 7 should be out towards the end of the year. Around the same time, a new version of Microsoft's Windows operating system called Vista will be made available for business users.

You can hear an interview with Dean Hachamovitch, general manager in charge of Internet Explorer development, on the BBC World Service programme Digital Planet.

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