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Like living on the edge? Try Microsoft's new test version of IE

Microsoft wants to show developers what's in store with Internet Explorer so they can build better Web sites. The move is just what Google and Mozilla already do.

Microsoft IE logo

Those who want the latest browser features even if it means a rough ride on the Web have a new option from Microsoft: a developer-channel version of its Internet Explorer browser.

The new version, announced and released Monday, follows similar moves by the teams building Google's Chrome, Mozilla's Firefox, and Opera Software's Opera. Those developer-channel releases aren't even as stable as beta versions, but they do let Web programmers test new Web technology and offer feedback before it reaches the broader public.

"Today we're excited to announce the release of the Internet Explorer Developer Channel, a fully functioning browser designed to give Web developers and early adopters a sneak peek at the Web platform features we're working on," Microsoft said in a blog post.

Microsoft has been working hard to catch up in the browser world after a hiatus allowed Firefox, Apple's Safari, and then Google Chrome to chip away at IE's market lead. With IE9, IE10, and now IE11, it's steadily added support for new Web standards that allow much more advanced Web applications.

The result has been a Web that's more interactive, more sophisticated, and more powerful than before. Even as programmers lavish attention on apps for mobile operating systems -- Google's Android and Apple's iOS, chiefly -- the Web has become better at replacing apps that run natively on PCs. That's why you'll see Microsoft Office for the Web, not just for Windows.

The developer version of IE requires Windows 7 SP1 or Windows 8.1, and the latest stable version of the browser, IE11, also must be installed, Microsoft said. The Developer Channel version doesn't overwrite IE11, though.

"IE Developer Channel can run alongside and independently of IE11, and has all of the browser features that you love in IE11, as well as the latest platform features we're working on," Microsoft said.

Following the Chrome and Firefox plans all the way -- for example with an intermediate beta channel and a rapid-release cycle that sees updates every six weeks -- isn't in the cards for now, Microsoft said. "Dev Channel will receive updates when there are meaningful ones ready," the company said.

New Web features in the Dev version include support for WebDriver, the Gamepad interface, and improved WebGL, a technology for hardware-accelerated 2D and 3D graphics.

People in the world of Web, development, and browsers rejoiced at the news.

"This is HUGE," said Google Chrome developer Addy Osmani.

"Congratulations to the IE dev team for opening up in this way. They've come a long way," tweeted Peter Gasston, a Web developer at Rehab Studio and author of Web programming books. And Adobe Systems Web technology expert Sylvain Galineau added, "Dept. Of F*** YEAH: IE team launches dev channel." Galineau was an IE program manager at Microsoft before leaving for Adobe in 2013.

Microsoft also is getting some nerd cred. It's releasing IE-related open-source software on GitHub. And the company just rehired Rey Bango, a JavaScript expert who had left a job as a Microsoft technical evangelist for Web standards just last November.

Microsoft has used its considerable influence with programmers to encourage the use of some new Web standards. For example, Microsoft has heavily advocated touch-friendly Web pages, a move that dovetails with its Windows 8 strategy to support tablet-PC hybrid devices.

And in its most recent browser, IE11, Microsoft added a number of new features to advance Web programming, including WebGL, SPDY for faster network connections, and Web Crypto for better handling of security and encryption chores by Web apps.

However, it's shunning one standard that Mozilla and Google like, the WebRTC technology for Skype-like video and audio chats, and it hasn't committed to another pair, srcset and the picture element, that are designed to help programmers adapt better to the multitude of screen sizes and pixel densities of today's computing landscape.

The developer-channel version could bring more transparency to Microsoft, a company that's often opaque when it comes to figuring out what Web standards it supports. Its IE Platform Status page has helped, too, but only to an extent.

One major factor that Google and Mozilla use when deciding on which standards to support is what other browser vendors are doing. That helps ensure compatibility. In other words, Web programmers don't have to create separate versions of their Web apps or Web sites for each browser.

Updated at 1:15 pm PT: With comment from Microsoft and reaction from some developers.