Microsoft calls on consumers to test IE 7

Software maker hopes free phone support will lure more than just typical beta customers to try new browser.

Microsoft wants you to put Internet Explorer 7 through its paces. And if you have any problems, just call the company.

On Monday night, the software giant released an updated test version of IE 7 for Windows XP. Now the company is hoping to convince the masses to try out the still-in-the-works software. To help spur downloads of IE 7 Beta 2, the company is offering free telephone support for customers in North America, Germany and Japan.

"Our goal is to encourage everyone to try the product," Dean Hachamovitch, Internet Explorer general manager, said in a telephone interview. "We think that free phone support is a good way to encourage a lot of people who might otherwise shy away from trying beta software."

The software is available as a free download from Microsoft's Web site.

A prior test version, released in January, had been publicly available, but Microsoft was only encouraging developers to use it. An even earlier beta, last July, was not released publicly and was made available only to select testers.

The company is planning a third beta for later this year, before releasing a final version of Internet Explorer 7 to Windows XP users in the second half of this year. Microsoft is also building IE 7 into Windows Vista, with several test versions of that software also having been issued.

After years of leaving Internet Explorer relatively unchanged, Microsoft now sees continued innovation coming in both the browser and related add-ins. The company also has faced increased competition in recent years, largely from Mozilla's Firefox, which has grabbed a significant share of the market, though IE still dominates.

With the latest version of IE 7, Microsoft is hoping to identify more compatibility issues with the browser before they become widespread problems. Hachamovitch said that most Web sites are displaying fine in the new browser, though there have been some bugs, particularly with sites and software that have taken advantage of certain IE 6-specific tweaks. With IE 7, the company is attempting to be more standards-compliant. But Hachamovitch said that "because we do the right thing now" (by being standards-compliant), there may be some problems with IE 6-specific code.

"Sites in general should work great," he said. "There are a small number of sites that have gone through and tried to take advantage of old peculiarities in IE 6 rendering."

The free phone support will run at least until the Beta 3 release, but Hachamovitch said that Microsoft has not decided its plans from that point on. IE 6 users who got the browser through a new PC can get support from their PC maker if it is under warranty. Those who got their copy of Windows via an upgrade can get two free support calls from Microsoft; additional calls cost $35.

The test version launching this week is in American English, with an early May launch planned for German, Japanese, Finnish and Arabic versions.

In addition to serving up the new test browser, Microsoft is launching a new Web site, IEaddons.com, where people can go to download add-on software for both IE 6 and IE 7. CNET Networks, the publisher of News.com, is a partner of Microsoft for its Windows Marketplace and the new add-ons site.

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