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IE's lead over Netscape lengthens with new version

Microsoft quietly makes available for download international versions of its Internet Explorer 5.5 browser.

Microsoft this week quietly made available for download international versions of its Internet Explorer 5.5 browser.

Microsoft released Chinese, German, Japanese and Korean versions of the browser and said the domestic version would be out "very soon." IE 5.5 had been slated for a July release.

The browser has been available in "beta," or test, form since December, and the final version was released last week to software download and review sites including CNET Networks, parent company of

The release of the international versions appears to have slipped by Microsoft's U.S. headquarters.

"A few got posted to the Web, which is a little regrettable," said Microsoft representative Adam Sohn. "When you do a global release of a product, you want to do it in a coordinated fashion."

Sohn said the release of the domestic version is imminent and that Microsoft is merely "dotting i's and crossing t's."

Features new to IE 5.5 include improvements in the speed and reliability of printing and a way to preview print jobs, Microsoft said at the time of its beta release.

Under the hood, the browser has increased support for World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) standards, including Cascading Style Sheets 1 (CSS) and Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language (SMIL), as well as support for a group of presentation technologies Microsoft lumps together under the term Dynamic HTML (DHTML).

The upcoming version of Microsoft's consumer operating system, code-named Millennium, includes IE 5.5. That product, also released to the review press last week, is set for general release Sept. 14.

Microsoft is readying the final version of IE 5.5 as America Online unit Netscape Communications tests version 6.0 of its competing browser. That numbering, however, may be confusing; Netscape's new browser, rebuilt from the ground up, has been in development so long that the company skipped the "5.0" designation altogether.

Formerly known as "Communicator," Netscape 6.0 is scheduled for a second beta release in late August and a final "gold master" version in late fall, AOL said today. The Internet service provider acquired Netscape in March of last year. AOL scotched the name "Communicator" for browser versions 6.0 and above, citing greater consumer recognition of the name "Netscape."

With the new browser, Netscape catches up to Microsoft in some crucial respects. Like second-rung browser maker Opera Software, Netscape redesigned the version from scratch to provide a browser separable into discrete components, or modules. Microsoft's browser has long had that modular structure.

W3C standards form another area of technological competition. Both Netscape and, more recently, Microsoft have come under fire from independent advocacy groups for not hewing closely enough to W3C recommendations. As a result of lax adherence to standards, Web authors have had to spend time testing--and in many cases rewriting--Web pages for the major browsers and their various versions.

Netscape, however, has won plaudits from those same advocates for its emphasis on standards compliance in the rebuilt 6.0 release.

On the marketing front, Microsoft has been running away with the browser sector, continuing a trend that was partly responsible for the antitrust trial that threatens to bring the software maker under the government's anti-monopoly knife.

A recent study found that 86 percent of Web surfers worldwide use IE. The glacial pace of Netscape's development, which has faced repeated delays, only aided Microsoft's rise.

News of the international IE 5.5 postings was reported on the ActiveWin Web site.