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Users may get IE 4 in advance

The official release of the much-ballyhooed IE 4.0 browser isn't until tomorrow, but CD-ROMs with the software already have shipped.

The official release of the much-ballyhooed Internet Explorer 4.0 browser isn't until tomorrow, but CD-ROMs with the software already have shipped.

More than 200,000 copies of IE 4.0 on CD hit the mail Friday, a Microsoft (MSFT) spokeswoman confirmed.

"This means that, in a few cases, some users will have the final version of IE 4.0 in their hands before the official release date," speculated one excited user, who received notification of the CD-ROM ship date by email.

The spokeswoman couldn't confirm whether users would get the browser in advance of the release, except to say that the discs were sent by snail mail last week to ensure they would wind up in customers' hands by tomorrow.

The CD costs $4.95 and requires a credit card payment, according to the online order form. The free version is available for downloading on Microsoft's Web site as of tomorrow. In addition, many PC makers and Internet service providers are partnering with Microsoft to deliver the browser.

Netscape (NSCP) currently dominates the browser market, but Microsoft thinks IE 4.0 will give it more than a 50 percent market share for the first time. (See related story)

A survey of 279 corporate users released today by Zona Research shows Netscape's Navigator remains the leading browser with a 62 percent share, compared with a 36 percent share for Microsoft's IE. Explorer's share has risen to 36 percent from 3 percent in the past 18 months.

"We see Netscape remaining the significant player due to its strong brand name recognition and an effective campaign that has driven all but one competitor out of the marketplace," said Clay Ryder, Zona's chief analyst, in a statement.