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IE for Windows 3.1, finally

Hoping to entice users away from Netscape's Navigator, Microsoft releases the final version of Internet Explorer 3.0 for Windows 3.1.

Hoping to entice users away from Netscape Communications' (NSCP) Navigator browser, Microsoft (MSFT) today released the final version of Internet Explorer 3.0 for Windows 3.1.

Conspicuously absent from the browser is Java support, though Microsoft officials today promised that a Java engine for Windows 3.1 would be available within the next few weeks.

Both Netscape and Microsoft have been struggling to get Java working on Windows 3.1, which is still by far the dominant desktop operating system, but their efforts have been bogged down by the lack of multithreading capabilities in Windows 3.1, a feature that is crucial to running Java applets. The companies are both currently testing prototype versions of the Java Virtual Machine, the engine that powers applets, but have not released them to the general public.

To date, IBM is the only company to have released a Windows 3.1 JVM, but it is aimed at developers and not consumers.

According to Microsoft, the company wanted to release its Windows 3.1 browser as early as possible and decided to delay the release of its Java engine until the software is more stable.

"We wanted to get the solid stuff out there now," said Kevin Unangst, a product manager for Microsoft.

Unangst said that the new browser contains virtually all of the key features of Microsoft's Windows 95 browser, including a customizable user interface, multimedia and encryption support, Netscape plug-in support, and JavaScript and VB Script capabilities. He also said that the browser has been designed to run better on low-end PCs than Navigator does.

"We run on 386 [PCs with] 4 MB" of RAM, Unangst said. "Netscape says it can run [Navigator] on those systems, but we have a performance advantage."

Unangst also confirmed today that there is a development team at Microsoft working on a 4.0 version of Internet Explorer for Windows 3.1. He said that the team was still in the process of determining what features would be included in that browser and when it will be released.

According to analysts, Microsoft's Windows 3.1 browser could help Microsoft's campaign to win browser market share, particularly within corporations where Windows 3.1 is prevalent.

"Anything that leads them to be multiplatform is significant," said Ira Machevsky, an analyst with the Giga Information Group. "It gets them out of their one-horse show box. Windows 3.1 is significant because it's still the dominant platform in the enterprise."