Microsoft Releases Public IE7 Preview

Microsoft on Tuesday made available for public download a pre-Beta 2 release of Internet Explorer 7, which is designed to showcase features the new browser will bring and give developers time to play with the latest technology. IE7 notably adds a tabbed interface and improves browser security.

Although the release is not yet Beta 2, because it "requires additional fit and finish work," Microsoft sees the preview as a major milestone over Beta 1. A key addition is the integration of the Windows RSS platform that provides a framework for downloading, storing and accessing RSS feeds across the operating system.

For example, a user can subscribe to a feed in one application and have that feed data available to any other application.

"Microsoft is making the Windows RSS platform available to Windows XP users for the first time," a company spokesperson told BetaNews. "This is big news for developers and is really exciting for Microsoft and the community we've been working with."

Security features such as ActiveX controls being disabled by default and a phishing filter promise to keep Web surfers safe at a time when attacks are becoming more commonplace. IE7 also locks down cross site scripting and international domain names to prevent malicious use.

On the interface side, Microsoft says it has endeavored to make IE7 simpler, more streamlined and less cluttered. A customizable search box enables users to make quick queries to the engine of their choice, and a Favorites Center clusters favorites, tab groups, history and RSS feeds into a single panel.

"Microsoft definitely is making progress," noted Jupiter Research senior analyst Joe Wilcox. "The UI is more refined, but by no means finished. Microsoft has finally reached the point where IE feels like a modern browser."

A page zoom feature has also been added to aid those with vision disabilities. When a page is zoomed, images are also enlarged along with text. IE7 additionally will shrink a Web page for printing, with an option for printing only selected text.

Multiple homepages are now supported through the use of multiple tabs. "I see that as potential boon for Microsoft or PC partners, depending on which is setting the home pages," said Wilcox. "So, say, Alienware could ship a PC with default home page tabs for its main Website, support page and downloads page."

Under the covers, Microsoft has beefed up IE7's technical capabilities. CSS improvements and transparent PNG support catch the browser up to rivals such as Firefox, and native support for XMLHTTP means AJAX-based Web applications will no longer require an ActiveX control to function.

"Microsoft is encouraging Web and application developers and technology early adopters to install the Internet Explorer 7 Beta 2 Preview to test compatibility, become familiar with the new capabilities, and provide feedback to Microsoft," the company said.

The Internet Explorer 7 Beta 2 preview works only with Windows XP SP2.

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