Microsoft this week raised the curtains on Internet Explorer 6 (IE6), making the latest upgrade to its Web browsing software available to users as a download from its Web site. However, the browser has come under fire for excluding technology such as Java, and not allowing media plug-ins to be used for viewing content such as QuickTime. The company has cited security concerns with third-party software, and says it will use its own technology instead.
Internet Explorer 6 (IE 6) includes support for P3P (Platform for Privacy Preferences), a standard intended to help boost user privacy currently under development by the W3C (the World Wide Web Consortium), a standards group. IE 6 also includes a "media bar," where users can store links to audio and video content, and a revamped user interface.
Microsoft made security a priority with this latest release of its browser software, according to Rob Enderle, an analyst with Giga Information Group.
"Users can now decide what levels of risk they want to accept," he said.
Microsoft decided to "turn off" many of the tools used to run programs such as stock tickers or video windows on Web sites. The software that allows these Web applications to work can sometimes also give hackers means for entering a user's computer and causing damage. Microsoft now expects users to turn on the features they want, putting the burden of security on consumers instead of the software maker, Enderle said.
While this strategy could help Microsoft avoid many of the security issues it has been plagued by over the years, it will also require more knowledge about technology and security perils by the average user.
"We are reaching a point where a certain amount of competence is required of the user," Enderle said. "There is so much hostile stuff going around that it is time the user became better educated."
Not only did Microsoft "turn off" several of its own programs, but the company dropped support for similar applications from other parties. Most notably, Microsoft will no longer support Sun's Java language or "plug-in" style technology.
In addition, users and Web site developers will have to work to make Apple's QuickTime media software work with the new release. QuickTime is used widely on the Internet and competes with Microsoft's own media software.
Both Java and plug-ins give users access to a wide range of media and interactive applications running on the Internet. Microsoft has long battled with Sun over Java and will not include support for the technology in its upcoming release of Windows XP either.
Again, Enderle said the lack of support for Java or plug-ins in the browser will require a little more effort from the end user, but added that these technologies will be readily available from other parties.
PC makers like Dell will bundle support for Java with the computers they sell, making it possible for users to take advantage of the technology quite easily, he said.
In total, the latest of iteration of Internet Explorer appears to be a move in the right direction for Microsoft, according to Enderle.
"I think we have taken a step forward here," Enderle said. "The environment is more secure than (the) somewhat buggy version 5."
The browser will run on Windows 98 and later versions of Microsoft's operating system, the company said. It is available from Microsoft's Web site at the link below.
Microsoft said it had wrapped up the final code for Internet Explorer 6 (IE 6) in early August. At the time, a company spokesman said Microsoft didn't plan to release the software as a stand-alone application until its forthcoming Windows XP operating system hits retail shelves on October 25, 2001.
The company has apparently switched tack, offering IE 6 to end users a few days after the final version of Windows XP, or "gold code," was handed to PC makers. Those vendors were given the software Friday during a publicity stunt at Microsoft's Redmond, Washington headquarters, and will spend the coming weeks loading and testing it on desktop and laptop computers.