While the bulk of its browser efforts remain focused on Windows 95, the software giant has accelerated its development of Macintosh, Windows 3.1, and even Unix editions of Explorer in an effort to match the cross-platform support of Netscape Communications' (NSCP) Navigator browser. Still, both Netscape and Microsoft typically offer the broadest set of features on their Windows 95 browsers.
The first beta release of Internet Explorer 3.0 for the Mac is no exception, offering Apple users many, but not all, of the features available to Windows 95.
Like the Windows 95 edition, the Mac browser supports HTML 3.2 and Cascading Style Sheets, which allow Web designers to spruce up pages using lightweight HTML tags rather than bulkier image files. Explorer 3.0 for the Mac also allows users to personalize the browser's toolbar, a consumer-friendly feature that has won praise from reviewers.
Explorer 3.0 for the Mac also supports Java applets, though users must download a separate Java engine created by Metrowerks from Microsoft's site. The browser will also work with the Mac OS Runtime for Java, a Java engine available on Apple Computer's Web site. However, neither Java engine will offer users the zippier applet performance provided for months by a just-in-time compiler currently available to Windows Internet Explorer users.
Mac users will have to wait a bit longer before they can run ActiveX controls as well. Initially, Explorer 3.0 requires a separate Mac ActiveX development kit to run controls, though it will offer native support for ActiveX in beta version due out later this year, the company said.
"Our focus here was to provide the broadest range of features that are important to Mac users," said Kevin Unangst, a product manager for Microsoft.
Unangst said another Microsoft focus was to minimize the memory requirements of Explorer 3.0 on the Mac. He said Explorer will require less RAM than Navigator 3.0 because it can load and unload its Java engine into memory only when it is required.
Some analysts are encouraged by Microsoft's Mac Internet development efforts. "If they do this good a job with the next version of Office, most Mac users will be ecstatic," said Ross Scott Rubin, group director for consumer Internet technology at Jupiter Communications.