Microsoft's IE 6 test version leaked online

The software giant is investigating a leak of its upcoming Internet Explorer 6 browser, which renegade software sites have posted to the Web.

Paul Festa Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Paul Festa
covers browser development and Web standards.
Paul Festa
3 min read
Microsoft is investigating a leak of its upcoming Internet Explorer 6 browser, which renegade software sites have posted to the Web.

A "beta," or test version of IE 6, Microsoft's browser-in-progress, is meant to be in the hands of a few testers who have signed nondisclosure agreements. But the browser has been posted on The-Ctrl-Alt-Del.com and FileClicks, software enthusiast sites with reviews and downloads.

Those sites became inaccessible shortly after CNET News.com posted news of them Monday afternoon. The-Ctrl-Alt-Del.com said it had pulled the files when it learned that Microsoft was investigating the leak, and that its hosting provider simultaneously pulled the site because of the volume of traffic. FileClicks could not immediately be reached for comment.

Microsoft said earlier Monday that it was investigating the leak and that it would try to have the software removed from the sites.

"There was a (test version) that was sent to beta testers in November under (nondisclosure agreements), and this is obviously a breach of that in some respect," a company representative said. "We will look into it."

November's sneak peek was an attempt to solicit feedback from selected software developers. The company has yet to schedule a public beta.

Gartner analyst David Smith says Microsoft will use IE 6 to tie users more closely to its Web properties, especially the Microsoft Network and bCentral, its site for small businesses.

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Many of the new features in the leaked beta, according to screen shots posted by The-Ctrl-Alt-Del.com and an interview with its Webmaster, indicate that Microsoft is moving more aggressively to tie its browser to its other Web software and Web sites, a practice for which it criticized Netscape when that company tightened integration between its browser and Web portal.

For example, the IE 6 beta includes a new, left-hand menu bar--akin to the one that Netscape introduced with its latest browser, Netscape 6--that includes a series of icons linking to Microsoft media software and properties.

A music icon links to WindowsMedia.com or opens the Windows Media Player. Next to it are similar icons for radio and video. Another icon opens a search bar that delves into Microsoft's Expedia travel site.

An Explorer Bar, which previous versions of IE have included, offers expanded choices, including links to Microsoft properties MSNBC News, MSN Search and Encarta Enquire.

IE6 screenshot The IE 6 beta also offers a Personal Bar, which lets the browser display more than one Explorer Bar at once. Another tool gives browser users greater latitude in choosing what appears in the bars, letting them change the order of appearance and add or delete items.

With the IE 6 beta, a series of icons appear when the mouse rolls over an image, offering to save the image, print it, send it in an e-mail, or open it in an image editor.

Only computers running Windows 2000 are able to install the posted version.

Sources at Microsoft earlier said that the company was not planning to release a standalone beta of IE 6; instead, it intends to make it available as part of Microsoft's next version of Windows, code-named Whistler.

Microsoft isn't alone in facing software leaks. AOL Time Warner's most recent software upgrade, AOL 6.0, was leaked and distributed over the Internet well before the company officially released it.

Leaks tend to come from one of three sources: a person who is testing the software under nondisclosure agreements; someone who has hacked into a company's computer network; or a source at the company itself.