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Inside Microsoft's new mobile browser

CNET News' Ina Fried gets a peek at the version of Internet Explorer 6 that the company will bring to Windows Mobile later this year.

SAN FRANCISCO--Microsoft still isn't quite ready to release its new mobile browser, but I did get an advance look at Internet Explorer 6 for Windows Mobile at a Microsoft event Wednesday night.

The biggest benefit will be the fact that it is the full IE 6 rendering engine, meaning that any page that renders properly in IE 6 on the PC should do just fine on Windows Mobile. Tim McDonough, a senior director in Microsoft's Windows Mobile unit, showed me the browser running the standard MSN home page.

The current version of mobile Internet Explorer, seen here, leaves a lot to be desired. A new version, based on the same rendering engine as Internet Explorer 6 for the PC, promises Flash support and other improvements. Microsoft

I saw the browser running on Windows Mobile Standard--meaning on a non-touch-screen device. The browser makes good use of a D-pad controller to go from link to link, but it's still not as elegant as on a touch screen. I'll be interested to see how the browser works on a touch-based Windows Mobile device, but am still not expecting navigation to be up to the iPhone level.

Navigation may be better on the iPhone, but IE 6 will have some advantages, such as full Flash support.

"The market today is really at 'Can I see a page?' Very quickly we're getting to 'Can I do something?'" he said. "That's where we will really shine."

Another interesting option on IE 6 is the ability to quickly shift from a site's mobile page to its standard desktop version. Just because IE 6 can show the full site, doesn't mean that's always what people want. It's particularly true in Europe where even so-called "unlimited" data plans typically have data caps that can easily be reached by loading a lot of standard Web pages. IE 6 toggles between mobile and standard Web pages by sending a different user agent, depending on which page type a user wants to see.

McDonough didn't offer much of an update on timing for IE 6, except to say that "it's still this year."

That's left Windows Mobile device makers scrambling to try to better compete against Apple's browsing experience. To fill the gap, many are turning to Opera's Windows Mobile browsing, which offers better navigation and rendering than the current mobile Internet Explorer.