IE 6.0 Beta Takes Small Steps

Web site privacy rating capability, cookie management features need work

Microsoft Corp.s Internet Explorer 5.0 was released in March 1999. Now, with the release of the beta of IE 6.0 two years later, its hard not to think, "Is that it?"

IE 6.0 sure doesnt look like a major upgrade, especially when compared with how much of a difference there is between Windows XP and the then-current Windows 98. Nevertheless, eWeek Labs did find some welcome new features in the browser, and, with the final release not expected until fall, Microsoft has some time to make significant changes to the browser.

The new capability in IE 6.0 that seems to be getting the most attention is the feature that tracks privacy ratings of Web sites. This feature uses the World Wide Web Consortiums P3P (Platform for Privacy Preferences) standard to view a sites rating and provide feedback.

On the default (medium) setting, IE displays a small, hard-to-notice flag in the status bar that tells if a site has no policy or an incomplete one. In the high setting, the browser wont load sites without a privacy policy, but it fails to provide any feedback as to why the site didnt load. Another weakness in this feature is that P3P relies on sites to accurately list their own privacy policy.

IE 6.0s ability to handle cookies has been improved, and it is now easier to reject or delete cookies, but the browser still lags behind Opera Software A/S Opera and Netscape Communications Corp.s namesake browser in the area of cookie management.

Other than the look and feel that IE 6.0 inherits from Windows XP (see review, Page 1), the interface is not significantly different. Microsoft did add an HTML-based Personal Explorer bar, much like a corresponding feature in Netscape 6, where third parties can provide value-added content.

In addition, in the same way that Netscape 6 integrates with AOL Instant Messenger, IE 6.0 integrates with MSN Messenger, although it lacks the extensive mail client integration that Netscape has.

In the product literature, Microsoft claims that IE 6.0 will have the best and most complete standards support of any browser. In tests of the beta, it did well but still came up short of 100 percent support for standards such as Cascading Style Sheets and Document Object Model.

Making a small and much-belated acknowledgement of the virus problems that have plagued the Outlook Express mail client, Microsoft has added features that make it possible not to load any attachment that appears to be a program. We could also choose to have it warn us if any other program attempted to send mail. Somewhat surprisingly, neither of these options were defaults.