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IE 4.0 release unpolished

The first public version of Internet Explorer 4.0 finally hits the Net, but end users may not want to rush right out and download the browser.

The first public version of Internet Explorer 4.0 has finally hit the Net, but end users may not want to rush right out and download the browser.

Microsoft (MSFT) explicitly warned users that the "platform preview release" of Explorer 4.0 is intended for developers only, even though the browser is available to anyone with an Internet connection. And today, a number of early users of the software confirmed the browser is not ready for widespread use.

Users will have to wait a couple more months for a more polished beta version of Explorer 4.0. The final version of Explorer is due out this summer, according to a Microsoft spokeswoman. Previously, the company has given two time-frames for shipping Explorer 4.0--summer and mid-year.

"The preview is fine for developers who need to take a peek under the hood to see what makes it tick, but it can be a real configuration hassle for those who are looking to make it a permanent part of their systems," said Alan McCoy, a Web site designer in Norfolk, Virginia.

At the same time, new features, such as Explorer 4.0's integration with the Windows 95 and NT operating systems and the Outlook Express email and news client, are getting an initial thumbs up from some users.

"The browser seems like stereo equipment," said Michael Whalen, a drywall finisher from Bakerton, West Virginia. "They have developed more features than the regular guy/gal will ever use and the capabilities are eons ahead of what was thought possible on a mass scale just a few years previous."

On its own Web site, Microsoft warns users from immediately adopting the platform preview of Explorer 4.0 as their one and only browser.

"The Platform Preview of Internet Explorer 4.0 is a developers' release," reads a statement on Microsoft's Web site. "That means it is intended to provide an advance look at the product for software developers and other computer industry professionals, but not to serve as people's primary work browser."

Overall, several users said the browser was reasonably stable, but that it crashed when it attempted to run ActiveX controls.

"The product has been quite stable, until I attempt to download Active X controls," said Matthew N. Klein, a software developer in Chicago. "I have had no success with this. The browser has crashed each time I download a control."

Explorer 4.0 is a radical makeover of the company's Web browser. With it, users can navigate the hard disk of their computers like a series of Web pages, blurring the distinction between browsing PC files and the public Internet. Microsoft hopes to compete more aggressively with Netscape Communications by integrating Explorer with the Windows 95 and NT operating systems.

Explorer 4.0 includes "push" broadcasting capabilities so that users can automatically receive Web content. This first preview release includes a feature for automatically checking downloading Web sites at regular intervals. In a later beta release, the browser will include "channels" that provide users with a collection of information services such as news headlines, stock quotes, and other content.

This morning, Microsoft posted the "platform preview release" of Explorer 4.0 on its Web servers. The browser has actually been available for several days from other Web sites after Microsoft accidentally left open one of its FTP servers to public access.

Users can now download Explorer directly from Microsoft's Web site, as well as from several downloading sites, including Tucows, the ZDNet Software Library, and CNET's DOWNLOAD.COM.

Microsoft had removed the browser from its own servers but not before a handful of other sites made copies that were soon floating all over the Web.