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Microsoft turns up the heat

The software leader is playing the role of Goliath against Netscape's David in the browser market.

BELLEVUE, Washington--At a workshop for the press devoted entirely to the Internet Explorer browser, Microsoft today played the role of a Goliath determined to overtake Netscape Communications' David with its aggressive Web strategy.

Keeping up a hectic pace of browser development--a phenomenon known to developers as "Internet time"--the company will ship the final version of Internet Explorer 3.0 on August 13, less than 3 months after posting the first beta version of the browser on the Net, said Brad Silverberg, Microsoft's senior vice president of Internet platform and tools division.

Although it's made considerable progress in matching the features of Navigator with version 3.0 by adding Java support, frames layout, and JavaScript support, Microsoft acknowledged that it still lags significantly behind Netscape's browser in terms of popularity. The company intends to fix that with more distribution deals with Internet service providers like America Online, AT&T, and Netcom.

"It's not the most popular [browser]. That's for sure," Silverberg said. "We know we still have a long road ahead of us."

The company is also hoping to improve the cross-platform support for its browser. Today, the company demonstrated an early version of Internet Explorer 3.0 for Unix. The browser, which is being developed with assistance from third-party Unix vendors, is expected to go into beta testing in the fall, Silverberg said.

While it is hoping to match the features of its Windows browser on other platforms, the company will not release Mac and Unix versions of Internet Explorer at the same time as Windows, Silverberg said. "Our goal is to keep the delta as small as possible, but we can't ship Mac and Unix versions at the same time as Windows," he said. "I'd like to, but it's impossible. There's only so much blood you can squeeze out of the stone."

Microsoft officials also gave reporters a glimpse of Internet Explorer 4.0--formerly code-named Nashville--which will merge the capabilities of Internet Explorer 3.0 and Windows Explorer so that Windows 95 and NT users will be able to browse their own hard disk as if it were a set of Web pages. A beta version of 4.0 is expected to be available by the end of the year, with a final version due in the first quarter of 1997.

The company is even already working on a 5.0 version of Internet Explorer for release sometime next year, said John Ludwig, vice president of the Internet platform and tools division. He would not describe the list of new features.

But Ludwig did provide more details about Microsoft's announcement last week that it would turn over control of its ActiveX architecture to a standards body. The company is now planning to host the first meeting in the second half of August with vendors and corporate developers to determine the standards organization.

"We may decide in that room that we might want the IETF [Internet Engineering Task Force] to sign it," Ludwig said. He said the organization that assumes custody of ActiveX will have control of the language's name, specifications, and the ability to certify controls that adhere to the ActiveX standard.

Microsoft also said today that it will go into beta testing this fall of a Web development tool, Internet Studio, about which it has remained quiet in recent months. Internet Studio replaced a development tool for the Microsoft Network service code-named Blackbird, which the company abandoned late last year when Web standards began to take precedence over MSN's proprietary page designs.

"We've tried to be pretty quiet about Internet Studio because we made some pretty serious mistakes about over-promoting Blackbird before it was ready," said Bob Muglia, vice president of developer tools at Microsoft.

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ActiveX may be turning into Brand X AT&T is latest MS ally in Net assault
Internet Explorer gets a facelift
MS posts the real Explorer 3.0 beta
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