The long-awaited Mozilla open-source browser is finally available for download, and AOL Time Warner Inc.s Netscape 7 is in beta. So, where is the next release of Internet Explorer?
Microsofts not talking beyond IE 6, which it shipped last fall. Nonetheless, there is some browser movement back at the companys Redmond, Wash., headquarters.
According to the ieXbeta Web site, Microsoft released at the end of May a new beta version of IE 6 Service Pack 1 for Windows XP and Windows 2000. The new service pack includes a rollup of the latest IE security fixes, testers say. Its not clear if the pack provides anything in the way of new features.
Microsoft also is continuing to make minor tweaks to MSN Explorer, the front end of its Internet access platform that shares the same core as IE. MSN 8 isnt expected to ship until some time this fall. A couple of weeks ago, according to the NeoWin Web site, Microsoft issued an internal test build of MSN 8 for company employees only.
Microsoft officials decline to comment on any of the features planned for MSN 8. The company is characterizing the pending MSN release, expected to debut this fall, as a major upgrade that will "leapfrog other ISP services that are available today in terms of functionality, particularly compared to AOL," said a statement by product manager Lisa Gurry.
The Active Windows Network, a web site that caters to Microsoft testers and all-around tech enthusiasts, publicized late last year a rumored list of planned MSN 8 features, based on what "M0" (milestone zero) looked like at the very end of 2001.
On the alleged feature list:
- New Dr. Watson crash-monitoring and reporting software;
- A revamped Mail Center that would provide better unified inbox (voice and data) services;
- A revamped, integrated version of Windows Media Player;
- New user interface/theming functionality;
- Task-based templates for sending and storing photos and files;
- Richer e-mail editing services
Another possible MSN 8 feature, according to sources, is some type of shared-browsing capability that goes beyond the shared whiteboarding provided via the Windows Messenger component of Windows XP. Indeed, Microsoft Research has studied the impact on online shopping by using a shared-browser approach, and studied whether single, dual or remote screen views are the best way to improve social interaction.
But the biggest -- and most controversial -- new MSN 8 feature will likely be Parental Controls, sources say.
Microsoft rival TimeWarner AOL has offered parental controls as part of its AOL service for several years.
At the core of Microsofts Parental Controls is a set of additional "consent and relationship management services" that go beyond the capabilities that Microsoft offers as part of the current version of Passport, sources say. The new controls will make use of the Global XML Web Services Architecture (GXA) specs and guidelines that Microsoft is developing, sources add.
MSN Parental Controls will allow for a streamlined way to capture instant-messaging sessions, track Web-site visits and deliver other monitoring features, sources say.
While attendees of closed-door MSN 8 previews confirm that Microsoft is readying Parental Controls, the company is holding fast to its line that any information on Parental Controls is "speculation."
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