Microsoft plans to deliver the first release candidate of the next version of Internet Explorer on Monday, according to sources familiar with the company's plans.

Internet Explorer 8 (IE8) has been in its second beta release since August, and a post on Microsoft's IE8 blog on Wednesday said the company was "about to release" IE8 Release Candidate 1 (RC1) for Windows XP and Vista. Sources familiar with the company's plans said the release will be Monday.

In Microsoft terminology, a release candidate means the software is feature complete and the code is basically stable, and a final release is imminent.

Microsoft's public relations team also has sent out e-mails to members of the press saying that Microsoft will have some news regarding IE8 on Monday, but will only comment under embargo about that news.

Microsoft originally had hoped to release the final version of IE8 before the end of 2008, but as with many Microsoft product releases, the software's delivery was pushed back. Rather than set firm dates for software releases, Microsoft typically these days will say the final release of software is dependent upon user feedback from the beta process.

Microsoft has developed IE8 to be more compliant with accepted Web-development standards such as CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) and RSS. This is a goal the company also had with IE7 but which backfired because developers who built sites for earlier versions of IE found they didn't render properly or work at all on IE7 once it supported those standards.

Microsoft developed IE before many Web standards were developed, and so older versions of IE don't support them. Developers would typically write applications to work with IE rather than to support standards because IE was the de facto standard for Web browsing for many years. That has changed, starting with the release of the open-source browser Mozilla Firefox several years ago. Firefox and now Google's Chrome browser have given users more browser choice, so Microsoft has had to make IE more competitive and standards-compliant.

IE8 also has some new features to make browsing the Web easier and more convenient for users, including two called Web Slices and Activities. Web Slices lets users subscribe to pages or points of interest they visit on the Web, such as news feeds or eBay auctions, and keep track of them through tiles that appear in IE's navigation menu.

Some third parties have even developed custom Web Slices. For example, a social search-engine company called OneRiot has developed a Web Slice that lets users keep track of the most frequently visited links other Web users are clicking on in real time.

Activities let the user right-click on a Web page and pull in maps or other Web pages into a site they are browsing without need for more coding or add-ins by the developer.

Microsoft also had said improving overall browser performance is a goal for IE8, as IE7's frequent crashes are the reason many users say they have switched to Firefox from IE.