Microsoft has released the latest beta version of its Internet Explorer 7 software, giving developers working on its XP operating system an additional preview of the browsers new features.
Dubbed as Microsoft Internet Explorer 7 Beta 2 Preview for Microsoft Windows XP Service Pack 2, the company is making the test version of the application available for download from its Web site while confirming that a final release of Internet Explorer 7 for Windows XP will arrive as expected sometime during the second half of 2006.
Company officials said the latest iteration of the beta is meant specifically as a final preview for third-party developers building Web sites or applications that run on Windows XP, and that a second beta version of IE 7 for Windows Vista, the firms next-generation operating system, will also arrive sometime during the first half of this year. Vista is scheduled to debut sometime before the end of 2006.
Microsoft is encouraging Web and application developers to install the beta to test compatibility and provide it with any related feedback. The company is asking consumers to wait until the IE 7 Vista beta arrives.
Among the features touted by Microsoft in the preview are the added security and privacy controls it has long promised in the software, along with a tabbed browsing interface and expanded tools for application developers. The company also took the wraps off of another additional feature expected in IE 7, Microsoft Windows RSS Platform for Windows XP.
RSS is a system for identifying news or other online content made available to users by a publisher. By integrating support for RSS feeds into its browser, Microsoft is promising IE 7 users the ability to tailor their own stream of personalized information directly through the software, delivering the news, sports and shopping information they request as it is posted on the Web. The feature also tracks blogs and offers search capabilities. It is centered on a tool bar within the browser that flashes when a requested RSS feed has been updated.
Gary Schare, director of IE product management at Microsoft, said that the company expects its developer partners to build an avalanche of new RSS applications using the new platform. While a previous beta of IE 7 for XP, issued in July 2005, had some of the capabilities offered by the development tools, he said that the newest iteration of the browser represents a far more polished version of the RSS software.
"Well see a lot of applications popping up in coming years building RSS capabilities directly into [IE 7] by utilizing the engine that we built in Windows, as opposed to re-creating that work and forcing every application to have to build its own RSS engine, manage its own subscriptions and deal with the data," Schare said. "Finding a way to expose people to new technologies like RSS in the browser is a focus for us so we can help make these new technologies mainstream."
While new to Microsofts applications, features such as RSS feeds, tabbed browsing controls and advanced user security capabilities are already offered on rival applications including the Opera and Firefox browsers.
Other developer-specific upgrades promised in the update are improvements to the manner in which the browser handles cascading style sheets (CSS), as well as greater support for the PNG image format.
Another aspect of IE 7 that Schare said received significant attention was the browsers Advanced Printing options, which added the ability for users to view multipage previews, shrink content to fit on a page, and reformat Web site data for more effective formatting on paper.
Other additions to the browsers interface include a reorganized window frame, a tool bar search box, new bookmark management features, and Page Zoom, which promises the ability for users to enlarge individual Web pages or graphics for a closer look.
In reaction to the litany of security flaws that have materialized in previous versions of Explorer, Schare said that increasing the browsers overall security was a primary element of the entire product revamp. He said that unlike Windows Service Pack 2, the controversial security update introduced by Microsoft in 2005, the new features encourage customers to play a more active role in managing the softwares defenses.
"In SP2 we had a lot of great security enhancements but they were mostly under the covers," said Schare. "IE 7 will be a great new experience in terms of advancing users ability to control security."
Among the specific security tools added to IE 7 are phishing site filters, opt-in for ActiveX software, blockers for spoofed Web addresses, and a feature that erases the browsers history.