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Microsoft delays IE 4.0 beta

Microsoft wants to avoid any security mishaps with Explorer 4.0. But while the company is delaying its Windows versions, the cross-platform upgrades are catching up.

LOS ANGELES--To avoid a repeat of the security problems now plaguing the 3.0 version of its browser, Microsoft (MSFT) is pushing back the first public beta test of Internet Explorer 4.0.

Company executives said today at Internet World that the "platform preview" of Explorer 4.0 will be released by the end of this month, missing its hotly anticipated target date of March 17 by two weeks.

Microsoft will use that extra two weeks to squash any bugs that could open Explorer 4.0 to hacker attacks, according to Dave Fester, lead product manager for Internet Explorer. The company will also use the time to integrate fixes for the three security bugs discovered in Explorer 3.0 last week.

While two weeks may not seem like a lot, the delay is an embarrassing admission that the company is still facing security problems.

So, Microsoft tried to highlight some good news today for Macintosh and Windows 3.1 users. While the beta for Windows 95 is lagging a bit, the software giant said today that the cross-platform versions of Explorer 4.0, specifically the Mac and Windows 3.1 releases, will be released much sooner after the Windows 95 release than with previous upgrades.

Although he did not give a release date for the beta versions of the browser, Fester said that Microsoft hopes to ship final Mac and Windows 3.1 versions within 90 days of Explorer 4.0 for Windows 95 and NT, which is due out in midsummer.

In the past, the cross-platform versions have lagged far behind the Windows releases. This time, Microsoft wants to show that it is as committed to cross-platform versions as Netscape Communications.

Fester also said that the Mac and Windows 3.1 versions of Explorer 4.0 will not meld seamlessly with those operating systems they way the Windows 95 and NT versions will. But he added that the Mac and Windows 3.1 users will be able to receive "pushed" information channels from Internet broadcasters.

But while Microsoft would like to talk about good news coming up, the company is still consumed with fixing the security holes that opened last week.

The discovery early last week of a security hole involving Windows 95 and NT Shortcut files triggered a frenzy of bug hunting by university students. Before the week was over, students found two more bugs, both of which could allow an unscrupulous programmer to manipulate files on a user's computer.

Earlier this week, Microsoft posted a bug patch that filled in all three holes. CNET reported yesterday, however, that programmers have found that the bug fix doesn't quite completely remedy the security glitch. (See related story)

Microsoft has a lot at stake with Explorer 4.0--a massive overhaul of the browser that will completely blend it with the Windows 95 and NT operating systems--and is eager to eliminate such security glitches before they hit the browser.

To do so, the company is working with the Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT), a security consulting service, to scour Explorer 4.0 for holes. Fester said the company is also considering giving away browser source code to several universities, as it has with Windows NT, so that they can test it.