IE 6.0: Big in Name Only

Microsoft browser aims low but squarely with its feature set

Improved performance, better standards support, and cookie and privacy control capabilities are pretty much all thats new in the recently released patch to Microsoft Corp.s Internet Explorer.

Oh, wait. Its not a patch. Its Internet Explorer 6.0, a whole new version of the browser, although probably only because someone at Microsoft decided that Windows XP couldnt go out the door without a new version of the browser on it. (See eWeek Labs review of XP, Page 24.) Almost more notable is what is not in IE 6.0—namely, support for plug-ins and a default Java virtual machine.

However, fewer changes will probably mean fewer of the bugs and security holes that typically follow a new release of IE. If IE 6.0 werent free, eWeek Labs wouldnt recommend even considering it, but most users will probably find upgrading worth the effort.

The biggest change in IE 6.0 is the new Privacy tab in the Internet Options menu. From there, we could implement detailed controls over how our browser would handle cookies from Web sites. This feature is based largely on P3P (Platform for Privacy Preferences), a proposed standard that relies on Web sites to define their privacy policies. By default, the browser blocks most third-party cookies.

The new privacy feature also displays a small flag in the status bar that shows whether a site has an incomplete, or no, privacy policy. With sites that use P3P, it is also possible to show a report that details a sites privacy policy.

The other new features in IE 6.0 are very minor, though not unwelcome. These include a media bar, an auto-image-sizing feature and a Windows XP Luna-like interface available only to those using the browser on XP.

While IE 6.0 by itself may not be a compelling upgrade, the included Outlook Express 6.0 is a "must" upgrade for anyone using the mail client. Included in Outlook Express 6.0 is a welcome security feature that, by default, warns users when applications attempt to automatically send mail, a common virus distribution technique.

The client can also be configured to prevent users from opening or saving attachments that could contain a virus.

Standards support is good in IE 6.0, especially for older, established standards. However, some custom extensions have been added; pages coded specifically to them will not display properly, even on a browser that is 100 percent standards-compliant.

IE 6.0 runs on Windows 98 and later. But on Windows 2000, the installation didnt provide a custom option; we could only do a minimum install.