Updated at 2:30 p.m. PST.
LAS VEGAS--Although anyone can, Microsoft is gearing this release for Web developers. However, a second beta, slated to arrive this summer, is aimed at a wider audience, Microsoft's top browser executive told CNET News.com.
"It's public," general manager Dean Hachamovitch said of the Beta 1 released Wednesday. "It's out on Microsoft.com somewhere. Anyone can download it."
Although features like Web Slices may appeal to consumers, Hachamovitch said that "the (current) beta really is for developers."
Microsoft isn't saying when the final version of the browser will be released. Hachamovitch also declined to say whether it will be released at the same time as Windows 7, the next version of Microsoft's operating system. He did note that Microsoft released IE 7 for XP ahead of Windows Vista, so it is technically possible to do so.
As was the case with the IE 7 betas, those installing the test version of IE 8 will have to replace their current browser.
The IE 8 beta will run on both 64-bit and 32-bit versions of Windows Vista and Windows Vista SP1 as well as Windows XP Service Pack 2 and Windows Server 2003 and 2008.
In designing the browser, Hachamovitch said, Microsoft is trying to find ways to both beand add features. On that latter front, he pointed to a consumer feature known as activities, which allows users to select a block of text and have it, say, looked up on Dictionary.com or mapped with Microsoft or Google's services.
"Right now, the Web for a lot of people is 'some assembly required,'" he said. "This integrates the services you use with the sites you visit."