Internet Explorer 6 in Final Stretches

In an e-mail to beta testers, Microsoft today announced the availability of what is expected to be the final build for the Internet Explorer 6 release. Barring any last minute issues, build 2530.1 will be deemed golden next week.

"We would like to express our sincere appreciation for your participation in the Beta program," IE6 coordinators boasted, "In large part thanks to your feedback and input, Internet Explorer 6 will be the best browser in the market."

IE6 will feature few drastic changes over its predecessor, most notably adding integrated media playback, automatic picture resizing and increased privacy with the adoption of P3P. The software giant has extended the browser's standards support, touting additional DOM and CSS functionality. IE6 will also support new specifications such as SMIL 2.0, used in interactive media presentations.

Smart Tags, however, will not be included in the release.

Microsoft opted to remove Smart Tags from the browser after repeated complaints from consumers fearing an abuse of the technology. Smart Tags modify certain words on a Web site, turning them into links to additional information. Unfortunately, early beta versions of IE6 shipped with Microsoft's own products as primary destinations, which critics used to attack their inclusion.

The addition of P3P, while designed to protect consumers, will undoubtedly cause headaches for many advertisers on the Internet. As first reported by BetaNews, the enhanced privacy blocks by default third-party cookies often used for ad banners. Redmond rival America Online has faced numerous problems attempting to solve the issue, and many of its advertisements remain broken for IE6 users.

New Explorer bars will be a key focus in IE6 as well, further integrating the browser with Windows. Despite removing the much ballyhooed Personal Bar and Contacts features after dismal tester feedback, Microsoft will debut a Media Bar and updated search. A discussion panel has also been added for supporting Web sites.

In tandem with IE6, Microsoft has completed the second service pack for Internet Explorer 5.5. Enjoying a quick two week beta cycle, IE5.5 SP2 includes the latest security and installation updates, as well as improved DHTML and CSS support.

Internet Explorer 6 will be made available for all versions of Windows, not just XP as early reports surmised. The final build will ship on new PCs with Windows XP this October.

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