Internet Explorer 7 Beta 2 Released

Microsoft early Tuesday put live the Beta 2 release of Internet Explorer 7, the company's new standalone browser for Windows XP and Windows Server 2003. A new IE Web site is promoting the beta, which Microsoft is targeting at both enthusiasts and the general public.

IE7 Beta 2 follows a preview release in January and a layout-complete build that debuted at MIX 06 in March. Margaret Cobb, IE Group Product Manger, told BetaNews that although there have been many noticeable changes since MIX, Beta 2 brings improved compatibility and a far more reliable browsing experience.

"We feel like we've done a lot of work under the covers," Cobb said. "We're hoping that tech enthusiasts will all take a look at it and try it out."

IE7 notably adds a tabbed interface and improves on browser security. Microsoft has also built into the browser an RSS platform that provides a framework for downloading, storing and accessing RSS feeds across the Windows operating system.

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.

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.

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.

Although Cobb warns that the new release is still beta, she is encouraging all Internet Explorer users to give it a try and provide feedback through newsgroups, blogs and a special support phone number. Highlighting Microsoft's confidence in Beta 2, those customers having problems with IE7 can receive free technical support over the phone.

Microsoft has rolled out a new add-on site to go along with Beta 2, which is located at ieaddons.com. Cobb told BetaNews the previous offering was "not a good way to promote our partners," and says the new site sports a simpler user interface and categories organized with tabs.

IE7 Beta 2 installs atop IE6, but users can remove the test release and revert back if necessary. Cobb notes that because IE6 is "part of the operating system" unlike IE7, it can never be fully replaced. Users of the IE7 Beta 2 Preview and MIX 06 interim build must uninstall those versions before installing Beta 2.

Microsoft has, however, designed a seamless upgrade path for Beta 2. The final IE7 release -- due out late this year -- will install directly over the beta.

Internet Explorer 7 Beta 2 is available for Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 in both 32-bit and 64-bit variants. Although English is the only language currently offered, Arabic, Finnish, German and Japanese versions will follow early next month.

Try out the Beta 2 release and tell us what you think!

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