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IE 4: Better to wait for '98?

Microsoft wants you to download its new browser now, but the real product won't be ready until next year for some customers.

Microsoft wants you to download Internet Explorer 4.0 now, but the real product won't be ready until next year for some of the company's most important customers.

That's because IE 4.0, which merges with the Windows desktop to create a IE 4.0 shakes industry Web-like interface, will be tightly integrated with Windows 98--the delayed upgrade to Windows 95--and with NT 5.0, which Microsoft is pushing as the main corporate desktop operating system. Both those OSes should be available before the end of 1998.

Meanwhile, the Windows 95 version available for downloading today might not perform as well, but it will have the exact same features and look and feel.

"The functionality will be consistent, which is important because a lot of corporate managers will evaluate IE 4 with Windows 95 and deploy it with Windows 98," said Windows product manager Phil Holden. "You can think of it as a stepping stone."

"You can download IE 4 now and install it on Win95, but with Windows 98 we're working to integrate it with the operating system," Microsoft product manager Kevin White said at the company's Professional Developer Conference last week. "It's not going to be the fastest on Windows 95, because in the Win98 build we'll widen the pipes."

The software giant claims the tighter integration will mean fewer crashes and better technical support. The beta versions of IE 4 for Windows 95 have been deemed "for expert users only," and Microsoft has warned users not to install the software on their primary work systems. The commercial version of IE 4 for Win95 is due today, the culmination of a summerlong browser "arms race" with Netscape Communications (NS CP).

White would not specify how much faster IE 4 on Windows 98 would be, saying that it's too early to tell as Win98 heads toward its third beta cycle later this fall.

One close observer of the company was surprised to hear that IE 4.0 for Win98 would be faster. "This is the first time someone has stated outright that it will perform better," said Dwight Davis, editor of industry newsletter Windows Watcher. "It's not clear how much difference there's going to be. Even if it is higher performance, the main reason we've cited for people to go to Win98 is hardware-driven."

Microsoft has consistently downplayed expectations for Windows 98, and one system integrator thinks today's release of IE 4.0 for Windows 95 is in part a continuation of that strategy.

"Those customers who've migrated to Windows 95 won't go to Windows 98 so quickly, so they have to bring some added value to the Win95 platform," said Dov Goldman, president of Dynalog Technologies. "[By releasing IE 4.0 for Windows 95, Microsoft] might be bowing to the reality of a kind of negative momentum in market."

David Feldman, the manager of Dynalog's Web and database division, pointed out that Microsoft put IE 4.0 out as quickly as it could to answer Netscape's June release of Communicator.

Windows 98 will add support for DVD (digital video disc), television reception, and high-speed data transfers from digital cameras and other devices that use Universal Serial Bus and IEE 1394 "Firewire" connections.

Without side-by-side testing of the two versions of IE 4.0, it's impossible to say yet if the Win98 version is faster. If the difference turns out to be negligible, however, it means potential upgraders will have one less reason to jump from Windows 95 to Windows 98.

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