is racing to complete the second beta version of its Internet Explorer 4.0 browser--the first to include a bevy of "channels" from Web publishers--and is expected to post it next week, according to sources familiar with the company's plans.
The software giant has told several of its publishing partners to expect the beta browser to be posted on the Net next week, perhaps as early as Tuesday. Today, a Microsoft spokeswoman said only that the company will release the beta by the end of this month and plans to ship a final version by the end of the summer.
The second beta of Explorer 4.0 will contain a number of technical improvements over the first "platform preview" release of the browser posted on the Net last April. One of the most notable new features is a menu of "Active Channels" that will allow end users to automatically receive information deliveries from content providers.
Microsoft is trying to close in on its chief rival, Netscape Communications (NSCP), which shipped the final 4.0 version of its Communicator software.
Communicator shipped without its Netcaster push technology component, though the final version is supposed to be out within the next 30 days, Netscape's senior vice president of marketing Mike Homer said today.
So far, Microsoft has publicly announced three premier Active Channels that will be prominently featured in Explorer 4.0: Intuit, PointCast, and MSNBC. According to Microsoft sources, the lineup of Active Channel publishers will be "very competitive" with the number and quality of Netscape's Netcaster information providers.
Netscape has announced more than a dozen information providers that will be featured in Netcaster's Channel Finder, including ABCNews.com, CNNfn, and CNET: The Computer Network (publisher of NEWS.COM). Netcaster users will also be able to receive more than 100 channels using Marimba's Castanet software, which is integrated with Netcaster.
Microsoft has been aggressively pursuing partnerships with companies, such as Disney, in a bid to upstage Netscape. Last May, CNET's NEWS.COM reported that the company was promising potential partners prominent places within Explorer 4.0 if the publishers agreed to exclusively promote their Active Channels and not Netcaster channels.
In addition to Active Channels, the new beta of Internet Explorer 4.0 will come with support for a new Java API (application programming interface) called J/Direct that lets developers link their applications to Windows.