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MS browses for new markets

Microsoft discussed plans to expand its Web browser offerings with offline capabilities.

BELLEVUE, Washington--At its Internet Explorer Reviewer's Workshop, Microsoft today discussed plans to expand its Web browser offerings with offline capabilities, improved controls for corporate IS managers, and, potentially, versions of Internet Explorer for Network Computers.

Offline browsers, such as FreeLoader and WebEx (formerly Milktruck Delivery), are companion applications to standard Web browsers such as Netscape Communications' Navigator and Internet Explorer that allow users to capture selected pages or entire sites for viewing after being disconnected from a network. Microsoft officials said it planned to offer offline browsing around the time that its Internet Explorer 4.0 ships. A beta version of Explorer 4.0 is expected by the end of the year.

Microsoft also discussed the following developments today:
--The company has entered beta testing on a 3.0 version of its Internet Explorer Administration Kit that will allow systems administrators control over browsers on corporate desktops, including the ability to block ActiveX controls and Java applets for companies skittish about security risks. The free kit will also give companies control over the look and feel of Internet Explorer, Favorites lists, and also security settings. The kit will ship in late August or early September on CD-ROM; users will be able to request the disc on Microsoft's Web site.
--Hoping to demonstrate that it hasn't neglected the older version of its older operating system, Windows 3.1, Microsoft said it will introduce by the end of the year a 3.0 edition of Internet Explorer for that platform that will come with support for Java, ActiveX controls, cascading stylesheets, and the PICS rating system. In the interim, the company plans to launch this fall Version 2.5 of Internet Explorer for Windows 3.1 that will support Netscape plug-ins, JavaScript and Visual Basic Script, and SSL 3.0.
--Microsoft is also developing a Web-posting wizard, a small program that simplifies publishing of pages by allowing users to post directly to a server via the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP). Normally, posting pages to a Web site requires a more lengthy process.

Company officials also reiterated that they would consider developing versions of its browser for non-PC platforms such as Oracle's Network Computer if those platforms take off. The NC is a stripped-down device designed primarily for Internet access at a relatively affordable price around $500.

In the past, Microsoft CEO Bill Gates has been dismissive of Network Computers, saying that the majority of users will reject the notion of a bare-bones PC sans hard disk, but the company has also maintained a wait-and-see attitude. Netscape officials, similarly, have indicated plans to developed a version of Navigator that can run on NCs. Microsoft is also planning to add Web browsing to Pegasus, the company's operating system for personal digital assistants that is currently under development.

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