Microsoft offers sneak peek at Internet Explorer 5.0
Redmond, Wash. -- Microsoft Corp. recently released a developer preview of Internet Explorer 5 (IE5), which gives an early taste of new features and a glimpse of what could be the next generation of Web-based application delivery.
The software giant was careful not to tip its hand too much, especially considering it's not currently offering details as to when IE5 will be released. Craig Beilinson, a product manager for Windows, said it's too early to speculate on how long it's going to take to complete.
However, Beilinson indicated that the IE5 process shouldn't be too far off from the time line used for IE4. With that product, Microsoft released public preview versions in April and July 1997, then shipped the final product in September 1997. Under a similar schedule, with the developer preview of IE5 preceding a public preview release, a final version of IE5 won't be seen until at least the first quarter of 1999.
According to Microsoft, IE5 will be packed with new features, many of which Beilinson said will be implemented to "make sure that Internet Explorer is the fastest way to find information on the Internet and your PC."
One such improvement is data binding. This process involves taking data to the client side, where subsequent requests can then be processed more quickly and without bandwidth issues of continuously querying a remote server.
Beilinson gave the example of gathering a list of books by Isaac Asimov and searching that list for books written in a certain year. In the traditional process, this would involve repeated downloads of book lists from the server to the browser, but with data binding that would all take place on the local machine.
Other benefits will come from such improvements as faster layout of tables; not requiring a check of the server if a cached item hasn't yet "expired," which reduces bandwidth and server loads; improved drag-and-drop capabilities; and support for Extensible Markup Language, cascading style sheets, dynamic HTML (DHTML) and "DHTML behaviors," the latter a proposal recently submitted to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) that enables site developers to apply different styles to a Web page.
In an effort to improve the evolution of the browser from being a Web-page viewer to its likely future as the centerpiece for running Web-based applications, features are being added to IE5 that Beilinson claimed provide "faster coding of applications and faster applications."
One such improvement is in the enabling of "browserless applications" by taking HTML documents and tagging them with a new file extension, HTA. Because some applications don't require browser components such as back and forward buttons, IE5 gives developers the ability to bring up HTML-based pages in their own windows and with the appearance of standard 32-bit applications. This could facilitate the creation of stand-alone applications, such as for user administration of a 401(k), without unnecessary user-interface elements.
Due to the architecture Microsoft has put in place for its operating systems, IE5 components can be installed on Windows 95 or NT. They can also be installed on Windows 98, even though that operating system currently has a version of IE4 seamlessly integrated into it. The new components supplant the existing Windows 98 browser's components, adding the new functionality without affecting the transparent nature of the application.
Response to the product's feature set is mixed. Many of the initial impressions were that IE5 isn't much different in appearance from IE4. Penelope Baker, a manager of information systems for a Detroit area company, said "I didn't see too much that makes me sit up and go 'Wow!' but I liked some of the new features, such as drag-and-drop in a File Transfer Protocol session and better maintenance of favorite sites, as well as improvements to the Outlook Express mail client.
Daniel Cerman, a college student and Web page designer in Fort Collins, Colo., said that IE5 can stand to vastly improve in standards compliance, and that, while some of the features in IE5 will be beneficial to page designers, adding them to a current page design is limited because they're not supported widely enough yet.
"New features such as 'behaviors' look nice, but I do not plan to use them because they do not validate as HTML 4," Cerman said.
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