Don't look for any major new features in the latest version of Microsoft's Web browser. Instead, Internet Explorer 5.0 delivers dozens of minor new features that add up to a much smoother Web experience for the end user.
Nearly all of the enhancements to Internet Explorer this time around are ease-of-use improvements in the user interface. There's not a lot here to lure corporate sites into undergoing the upgrade process except for the promise - a reasonable one, in my view - of increased end-user productivity.
When I booted up the beta version of Internet Explorer 5.0, which was released last week, I was first struck by how similar the browser looked to previous versions.
With a little more use, however, the differences between Explorer 4.0 and Explorer 5.0 became apparent.
For starters, the search tools have been completely redesigned. As with Explorer 4.0, you can still pop open a search panel on the left side of the display that remains open while you visit Web sites. Now, however, the search panel lets you select whether to search for a Web page; a person's address; a company or organisation; a map; or a previous search. Depending upon which option you select, Explorer 5.0 automatically employs different search engines.
By clicking on the Customize button in the search panel you can toggle engines on or off, as well as specify the order in which Explorer 5.0 will cycle through the available engines. Unfortunately - at least in this beta release - Explorer 5.0 didn't remember changes made to the default configuration, nor did it offer a means of adding to the available engines.
What's more, there's currently no way to specify that a search be performed only on a designated engine. You can't even access a list of search engines until you've used the first one in the cycle.
The browser will automatically highlight your search terms as they appear on the retrieved Web sites, a nifty feature that was not yet implemented in the beta version I tested.
There are dozens of other ease-of-use enhancements, from the browser's new capability to autocomplete URL entries based on sites you've visited previously to its autocorrection of typing mistakes in URLs, for example substituting "http://" when you type "http:/" by mistake. (This last feature was not implemented in the beta version I tested.)Explorer 5.0 makes connecting easier with its capability to autodetect available connection options (LAN, dial-up, ISDN, etc.) and connect appropriately. The program also provides enhanced support for HTML4 and Extensible Markup Language.
Finally, Microsoft promises that the Internet Explorer Administration Kit will be easier to use thanks to new wizards, though I was not able to test this because the provided beta software did not include IEAK.
As noted above, no one improvement in Explorer 5.0 seems very significant by itself.
Because the product is free, however, the only cost involved with upgrading will be staff time.
Given the added ease of use of this new version, many administrators will find the upgrade worthwhile.
The Bottom Line
Internet Explorer 5.0, beta
Microsoft's newest browser focuses on easing users' Web access through smarter search tools and other interface innovations. However, don't expect major new capabilities or administrative tools.
Pros: Dozens of interface and usability improvements.
Cons: None significant.
Platforms: Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows NT; Mac OS.
Price: Free. Ship date: not yet announcedMicrosoftTel (02) 9870 2100