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Developers get peek at IE 5

Microsoft releases a preview of its Internet Explorer browser version 5.0, hoping to collect feedback from developers.

Microsoft today released a developer preview of its Internet Explorer browser version 5.0.

The preview release is available for free download to anyone, but is intended for Web site and application developers who want to get an idea where the final product is headed. Microsoft also is hoping to collect feedback on the browser and its new feature from those developers.

Microsoft detailed and demonstrated the new features at the recent TechEd conference in New Orleans. Key developments in version 5.0 relate to the implementation of Dynamic HTML, or DHTML. DHTML refers to a set of Web building specifications including HTML, cascading style sheets (CSS), and scripting languages.

"When we came out with IE 4, applications developers were really interested in development functions with DHTML," said IE product manager Craig Beilinson. "And they gave us a ton of feedback on ways it could be easier and faster to use those things."

New features of the browser include:

  • A "drag and drop" capability that will let users move an icon between frames or between applications. The object model for this function will let developers implement it with about ten lines of code, as opposed to 5,000 lines necessary with IE 4, according to Beilinson.

  • DHTML "behaviors" will function for actions much the same way cascading style sheets do for format, separating style from content. CSS lets developers specify that certain text will appear in certain fonts and sizes throughout a Web site. DHTML behaviors will let developers use scripts to specify throughout a site how elements will move on a page.

  • Intelliproperties let developers define elements of a page in relation to other elements. In Microsoft's example, a font can be sized at 20 percent of a table or of a page, and that font size can change as the table or page is resized without having to refer back to the server.

  • The tag <htmlarea> lets developers create pull-down boxes or other fields for Web surfers to enter and save personal information, using HTML if they wish.

  • IE 5 supports the creation of documents that use Web tools such as HTML and scripting, but appear in a window without Web interface features such as navigation controls. This feature is for the creation of applications such as a calculator or an investment portfolio tool.

  • More specific error messages let developers know what kind of coding mistakes they have made when debugging an application.

  • IE 5 will let developers analyze which technologies Web surfers have on their computers. Using this capability, a Web page could find out whether a browser has Java enabled, for example, and serve it content accordingly.

    Web development technologies are works in progress, and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), of which Microsoft and its competitors are members, has not yet recommended or in some cases even evaluated many of the technologies contained in next-generation browsers, including IE 5.

    This lack of standardization on specific features could wreak havoc with Web surfers using competing or older browsers.

    W3C officials advise developers to use caution before implementing the latest features.

    "Developers can start to do things that appear in some new browser, but right away they should be aware that if it's proprietary, there's a risk of incompatibility," said W3C working group member Ian Jacobs. "They should try to do just standards-based development, but that may not get them the results they want.

    "Accessibility may not be compatible with the coolest site you can build," he added. "That's a dilemma that will never go away, because every company wants to get an edge and develop their technology before anyone else."

    Microsoft, for its part, contends that all the technologies that go into IE 5 have either been approved by or sent to the W3C for consideration. Microsoft's Beilinson also defended the process of implementing technologies without waiting for an official W3C recommendation.

    "One of the nice things about how this is going to work is that developers will work on this in the real world, and they can give Microsoft and the W3C concrete feedback on what does and doesn't work," Beilinson said. "All this real-world feedback will make the final spec the most reliable that it could be."

    A beta version of the browser is expected this summer.