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Standalone IE 6 closer to public beta

As Microsoft appeals the antitrust verdict related to Internet Explorer, the company is inching toward delivering the first public preview of a standalone, next-generation browser.

As Microsoft appeals the antitrust verdict related to Internet Explorer, the company is inching toward delivering the first public preview of a standalone, next-generation browser.

Sources close to Microsoft said Tuesday that the company has been debating internally whether to make IE 6 available only as part of Windows or also as a separate product. In the antitrust verdict currently on appeal, Microsoft was found to have unfairly pushed its browser by bundling versions of IE with its flagship Windows PC operating system software.

So far, Microsoft has not made a separate trial, or "beta," release of IE 6 available to a large number of testers. Instead, the company has made "technical" IE 6 betas available to a subset of testers via integrated beta releases of its Windows XP client operating system.

But according to a document published on the ActiveWin Windows enthusiast Web site--allegedly a copy of the release notes for the upcoming IE 6 public preview Beta 2--Microsoft plans to make IE 6 available as a standalone browser.

The catch? At least for the time being, the IE 6 public preview will be largely unavailable for many of the Windows operating system releases being shipped.

The alleged release notes state that neither the "typical" nor the "full" IE 6 installs are available for Windows 2000. And the IE 6 public preview won't run at all on Windows 95, according to the alleged release notes. The preview will run on Windows NT 4.0 (but only with Service Pack 6a or higher), Windows 98 and Windows XP beta builds.

Final versions of both Windows XP and IE 6 are scheduled to be commercially available before the end of 2001. Microsoft is expected to make those forthcoming Beta 2 releases simultaneously available to testers in mid-March.

Microsoft executives declined to comment on the authenticity of the IE 6 release notes. ActiveWin representatives said they traced the information to a Microsoft server ID.

A Microsoft representative did say that the Feb. 28 "release to Web" date at the top of the IE 6 public preview document was inaccurate.

Meanwhile, Microsoft is running later than expected with its Beta 2 release of Windows XP, the client versions of the successor to Windows Millennium Edition and Windows 2000 Professional. Microsoft developers had been hoping to release Windows XP Beta 2 to testers by mid- or late February. But some testers said that recent Windows XP interim beta builds were not as solid as they had expected they would be by this point.

IE 6 will go head-to-head with AOL Time Warner's Netscape 6--a product released by the America Online subsidiary last fall and criticized by many developers and other industry participants as too buggy for prime time. Many market watchers see IE rapidly expanding its Windows browser market share. Both IE and Netscape are available as freely downloadable products.

According to the alleged release notes for the IE 6 public preview, the browser will sport features such as new Explorer bars, Web pages contained within an IE window that are typically displayed within a vertical pane to the left of the screen. In addition to the existing Search, Favorites and History bars, Microsoft is adding several new bars, including Media, Search the Web, News and Personal. The company also is planning to allow IE users to add HTML-based bars developed by third parties or Microsoft in the future, according to the document posted on ActiveWin.

Other new features in the IE 6 public preview include the addition of a Privacy tab as one of the browser's Internet Options. IE 6 users will be able to set the desired level of privacy by specifying whether Web hosts can collect client information through cookies, according to the alleged IE 6 release notes. Microsoft is adding a Delete Cookies button to its Options list as well.

"Internet Explorer 6 implements the P3P version 1.0 compact policy specification to gather metadata about a Web site's intended use of cookie information," the release notes said.

The Platform for Privacy Preferences project is an emerging Worldwide Web Consortium privacy standard.