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Microsoft changes IE 4

The company is making changes to the program to address user feedback and complaints.

A month before the release of its Internet Explorer 4.0 browser, Microsoft (MSFT) is making changes to the program's interface to respond to user feedback and complaints.

From the early days of IE 4.0 testing, Microsoft has warned users to expect big changes because the program, unlike previous browser iterations, is tightly integrated with the Windows operating system. Once IE 4.0 is installed, it is incorporated with the desktop to become a window on the Internet as well the interface for local files.

But two cycles of public beta testing have convinced the software giant that a lot of people don't like the changes forced by IE 4.0. Some of the major changes will now be "hidden" as options, leaving the standard Windows interface as the system default. The news is a flip-flop of Microsoft's previous strategy, in which IE 4.0 beta users had to "deactivate" the changes by going into their system settings.

As with previous versions, IE 4.0 will have a browser-only option that will have no email or newsreader capabilities. Although not new for Microsoft, it is significant in the wake of Netscape's decision to unbundle Navigator 4.0 from its Communicator suite.

While Netscape said that that was planned all along, industry partners such as Lotus Development pressured the company by refusing to ship Communicator with their own groupware products. (See related story)

IE 4.0 will be available for download September 30 in three sizes: minimum, standard, and full installation. The minimum-install version, which will take between 8.5MB and 10MB of hard drive space, will not include the Outlook Express mail and newsreader client, a move which mimics Netscape's standalone Navigator 4.0 browser.

Microsoft will ship all three versions with some of the new interface features "turned off." If users want to use single-click navigation, for example, they will have to go into their settings and turn it back on.

Betas of IE 4.0 automatically changed mouse double-clicks to single-clicks within the desktop and Explorer areas, prompting some observers to call IE 4.0 more of an operating system upgrade than a browser component. In all three shipping versions, the traditional double-click navigation will remain the default, according to IE product manager Yusuf Mehdi.

The minimum, or browser-only, install will not change the Windows system interface. For example, it won't let users resort to single-click navigation nor will it offer the Active Desktop--the ability to add stock tickers and other applets to the desktop "wallpaper"--or enhancements to the Start menu.

Browser-only users who want to add those and other features (known collectively as the "desktop update") that integrate the browser with Windows must go to the Microsoft Web site and download additional components. The desktop update features will remain the default option when installing the standard and full versions of IE 4.0, but users who prefer the single-click option will be able to select that.

All three versions will continue to ship with access to "push" channels, although 60 percent of corporate beta testers have told Microsoft that at the moment they don't have any use for push, Mehdi said.

Administrators looking to customize IE 4.0 in their network environments can expect the shipping version of the IE Administration Kit to be ready by the end of September, Mehdi added.