After several delays, the first public beta version of Internet Explorer 4.0 has finally hit the Net. Sort of.
Microsoft (MSFT) posted the "platform preview release" of Explorer 4.0 on its Web server over the weekend. By Sunday, Microsoft had removed the browser from its own servers, but not before a handful of other sites made copies, copies that are now floating all over the Web.
Users can get to standard Windows 95 functions such as the Control Panel as well as local files through IE 4.0.
Microsoft isn't expected to officially open the beta test until tomorrow morning.
Today, Microsoft officials said that it began distributing Explorer 4.0 to other software downloading sites over the weekend, but that it accidentally opened up one of its servers to public access for a short period of time.
"In preparation for the worldwide release of Internet Explorer 4.0, Microsoft distributed code to our partners," said Dave Fester, lead product manager for Internet Explorer at Microsoft. "One of our servers was left open for a short time."
Explorer 4.0 is a radical makeover of the company's Web browser. With it, users can navigate the hard disk of their computer as though it were a series of Web pages, blurring the distinction between browsing PC files and the public Internet. Microsoft hopes to compete more aggressively with Netscape Communications by integrating Explorer with the Windows 95 and Windows NT operating systems.
Explorer 4.0 includes a new email and news client, Outlook Express, that displays a single view of mailboxes, folders, and newsgroups.
Explorer 4.0 will ultimately contain "push" broadcasting capabilities so that users can automatically receive Web content. This first preview release, however, does not implement this feature.
This weekend's Explorer 4.0 disappearance act capped a series of delays for the beta version of the browser. Originally, intended to be released last year, Microsoft delayed testing of Explorer 4.0 so that it could add a new capability called Dynamic HTML, which makes Web pages more interactive. Most recently, Microsoft postponed the platform preview release of Explorer so that it could scan the browser for potential security hazards.
Last month, Explorer 4.0's predecessor, version 3.0, was hit by a series of security glitches that could have allowed hackers to modify and delete files from a user's computer.