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Microsoft test drives new IE features

During the final weeks of the beta testing phase, the software giant is auditioning new features for its Internet Explorer browser, Version 5.0.

During the final weeks of the beta testing phase, Microsoft is auditioning new features for its Internet Explorer browser, Version 5.0.

New gadgets and tweaks reportedly include two changes to the mail program and a focus on integration between the browser and other Microsoft products.

Microsoft confirmed that last night it sent out a new build, but declined to comment on specific features. The software giant also stressed that the product was not a final release candidate, which is the last build beta testers see before the product ships.

"Our developers are still heads down on development," a Microsoft spokesperson said.

According to a report by beta news and information site ActiveWindows, Microsoft is testing out integration of MSN Hotmail, its free Web-based email service, and Outlook Express, the browser's email component. With the new build, users can sign up for Hotmail through a button on the OE interface. Also, OE will download Hotmail messages directly without requiring the user to visit the Hotmail Web site.

Another change in the mail program scuttles an antispam filter found in prior builds that has landed Microsoft in a legal hornet's nest. Blue Mountain Arts sued Microsoft for filtering its electronic greeting card notifications, and a California state judge this month issued an injunction forbidding Microsoft from distributing software with the filtering feature.

The third reported change is a radio toolbar that works with Windows Media Player, Microsoft's multimedia software. Users can program Web radio content from the toolbar while they surf other sites.

Microsoft launched the first public beta of IE 5 in November. The final release of the product is scheduled for the first quarter of the year.

IE 5's new features announced in November include "Internet Explorer Web Accessories," which allows content sites to build extensions to the browser interface to continuously serve content in a separate frame, regardless of where the user surfs; and IntelliSense, which extends autocompletion to more areas of browsing and offers content-synchronization for offline browsing.