If there's a single word that best describes the new release of Microsoft's Web browser, it might be "customisable".
Users can tailor the look and feel of Internet Explorer 5 in unprecedented ways, and administrators can create custom-tailored versions with the exact configurations they want.
Administrators will like the Internet Explorer Administrator Kit. The kit lets you create an installation file that gives users a version of Internet Explorer 5 with the custom settings you choose.
You can restrict users from changing settings in the browser and even some on the desktop - for instance, you can remove Windows' Run command.
You can then release your custom setup file to your users on CD-ROM or via a Web site. The only problem we had with the kit was its inability to preconfigure more than 50 favourites (Microsoft's term for bookmarks) for users - a low number, in our estimation.
Internet Explorer 5 is a refreshing break from the typical autocratic Microsoft application. It works well with applications from other vendors. You can associate any e-mail or newsreader program with Internet Explorer 5 as helper applications.
The same holds true for HTML editing, and calendar and contact manager applications, though Internet Explorer 5 didn't recognise Symantec's Act! on our system.
Netscape bookmarks are imported automatically when you install Internet Explorer 5. You can now organise Internet Explorer 5 favourites in non-alphabetical order. Unfortunately, the two features don't go together; when you import bookmarks they get reordered alphabetically.
Old dog, new tricks
Microsoft has learned a few tricks from Netscape. The first time you run Internet Explorer 5, it offers to make msn.com your home page, just as Netscape does with Netcenter.
At least Microsoft asks. Internet Explorer 5 also gives you the choice of preserving your existing file type associations. Otherwise, Internet Explorer 5 will make itself the default application for launching or viewing certain file types. If you want to keep your file associations, you have to know where to look. You'll find the opt-out check box under an Advanced button during the installation process.
Internet Explorer 5's history list is more helpful than Navigator's. You can actually view which day you last visited a site. We wish, however, that history items were ordered chronologically and not alphabetically; that option is only available for the current day's sites.
Microsoft created a new Links bar that's analogous to Netscape's Personal Toolbar. You can delete default links or move them out of that folder and replace them with links of your choice.
Let there be music
Internet Explorer 5 also has a few new sound tricks, such as an optional radio bar that lets you tap into feeds from a couple of dozen local radio stations.
You can also install a host of other linked products, including a new, enhanced version of Windows Media Player, a full-featured multimedia client, and Microsoft Chat, an IRC client.
Microsoft has added features that should be helpful for new users. For instance, an Internet connection wizard helps novices set up their connections, then deletes itself from the desktop.
There have also been a number of usability enhancements, such as autocompletion of URLs and the automatic launching of native editors for recognised file types - that is, Internet Explorer 5 will now launch Word to open a .DOC file.
The concepts of subscriptions and channels have been de-emphasised. Subscriptions are now called offline browsing. To designate a page for offline viewing, you have to check a box associated with that page under the Organize Favorites menu. The Channels button has been pulled off the button bar and out of Internet Explorer 5 and logically grouped with Active Desktop instead.
We still had a few minor quibbles with Internet Explorer 5. You still can't show only text on the navigation bar buttons, though you can replace the default large icons with smaller ones.
And despite Microsoft's assertions that it had made stability a priority, Internet Explorer 5 terminated abruptly twice in the week or so we tested it.
Still, Internet Explorer 5 marks the first time Microsoft has released a browser that stacks up well against the shipping version of Netscape Navigator. Internet Explorer 5 is available as a free download from Microsoft's Web site.http://www.microsoft.com