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Public beta of IE 7 nears

Windows XP users may get the chance to try out the Microsoft browser's new features early next year.

Microsoft is planning to make a beta of Internet Explorer 7 for Windows XP available to the general public within the next four months.

Dean Hachamovitch, general manager of Microsoft's Internet Explorer team, said in a posting on Microsoft's IE blog this week that his team will publicly release an updated prerelease build of IE 7 for Windows XP before the end of March 2006.

"We want to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to try a prerelease version of IE 7 and tell us how it works with their Web sites, their applications, their add-ons, and how they use the Web overall," Hachamovitch said.

Only Microsoft staff and specifically chosen beta testers can currently get their hands on the latest prerelease version.

The first was launched in July. It is expected to include several changes, including tighter security and tabbed browsing.

A later blog posting outlined how Microsoft is changing the way Internet Explorer handles "security zones." These zones are used to set security levels depending on the perceived trustworthiness of a Web site. Microsoft is concerned that these zones can be abused by malicious hackers if they can trick IE into treating a dangerous site as if it were trustworthy.

"We realized that the intranet zone--and its lower restrictions--is not relevant at all to the typical home user running IE. One of our interns this summer, Robert Liao, changed IE's logic so that a Windows machine that is not on a managed corporate network will treat apparent intranet sites as Internet sites. This change effectively removes the attack surface of the intranet zone for home PC use," Microsoft said.

Graeme Wearden of ZDNet UK reported from London.