The Good Familiar user interface; enhanced privacy features, such as the ability to block third-party cookies.
The Bad No startling improvements or new features.
The Bottom Line If you already run IE, this minor upgrade will keep you up-to-date, but there's no need to upgrade immediately. If you're a Netscape 6.1 fan, don't bother to switch.
Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0
At the height of the browser war between Microsoft and Netscape, the competing companies released new browser versions one after another. Recently, however, the war has been downgraded to a minor skirmish. Almost a year after Netscape released version 6 of its browser, Microsoft finally released Internet Explorer 6 (both alone and as part of Windows XP). Unlike Netscape 6, however (and its latest update, Netscape 7.1), IE 6 didn't turn out to be a complete overhaul. This incremental upgrade offers just enough new gizmos--including improved privacy features--to keep an IE user from switching to Netscape 6.x, but its interface remains relatively unchanged. (Netscape 7.1, however, is a different ballgame: you may want to check it out, if only for its cool tabbed interface.) Just about the only reason we can figure that IE 6 even deserves the full 6 version number is its release in conjunction with Windows XP. For those of you not upgrading to Windows XP, whether you run IE 5.x or Netscape 6.x, there's no need to rush for this download. Getting IE 6 is as easy as ever. Simply visit Microsoft's Internet Explorer 6 Web site. The latest version you'll find is IE 6 SP1, which corrects several security and privacy issues that cropped up in IE 6. Click Download Now, select the language you want, and download the 479K file. Click the setup file, and the program will install itself on your PC. Then restart your computer to complete the process.
Fire up IE 6, and you'll hardly notice the difference from IE 5.x ; Microsoft has made few visible changes. Compared to radically overhauled Netscape 6.x, in fact, IE 6's interface looks downright boring.
IE's only significant new interface change is the Media Bar. This Explorer Bar (similar to Netscape's Sidebar feature) is essentially the same one we saw in Public Preview 2 of IE 6. Click the icon in the toolbar, and out pops the Media Bar; click the icon again to make it disappear. When it's open, the Media Bar takes up the left-hand side of the browser and lets you play streaming audio and video without having to pop open a separate browser window. This way, you can surf to other Web pages while continuing to listen to or watch a media stream within the Media Bar. The arrangement works quite well for audio files, but unfortunately, IE scales down video files so that they fit within the Media Bar's narrow frame, making them so small that they're difficult to watch.
We also like another small but incredibly handy interface option: IE 6 finds a smart way to display large graphics files (such as those oversized photos of your nephew on your sister's Web site). In the past, if the graphic was too big to display in your browser window, IE forced you to scroll around to view the whole image. Now, IE simply scales the picture to fit your screen. It also displays a small floating button on the lower-right corner of the graphic; click the button, and the graphic scales up to its normal size. This kind of innovation won't change the world, but it's a nice touch, especially if you're viewing photos on a laptop that doesn't have a high-resolution screen. If you do need the full-sized image, however, you can easily disable the resizer; simply uncheck "Enable automatic image resizing" under Tools > Internet Options > Advanced.
The most significant of IE 6's new features work behind the scenes to keep your personal browsing habits private. Thankfully, they also put IE's Internet privacy features on a par with Netscape 6's powerful privacy tools.
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