Next Wednesday, Microsoft Corporation will release Internet Explorer 5.0, and computing will never be the same. It's not that IE 5.0 is radically different from IE 4.0 (it's not, from the user's standpoint) or even that IE 5.0 contains some hidden benefit that no one's touched on yet (it doesn't, we've all talked up IE 5.0 for months). No, IE 5.0 represents a link to the way we compute today and the way we're going to be computing in the future. Here's how:
- IE 5.0 is the major component of Microsoft's biggest franchises,
Office and Windows. In fact, these two products represent over 90%
of Microsoft's earnings. They say IE is free, and it is, but it's
also directly responsible for most of the money coming into the
company. It's what you'd call "strategic." As soon as IE 5.0 goes
gold, the Office 2000 and Windows 2000 machinery will rumble back
to life with major new releases. In fact, Office 2000 is ready now,
simply waiting for IE 5.0 to be finished before it can be released
to manufacturing. Windows 2000 Beta 3 RC 1 is also ready, also
waiting solely on the release of IE 5.0. The upcoming OSR refresh
of Windows 98 will also include IE 5.0.
- It's the death of Netscape. Sorry AOL, but you bought a turkey. In
the past few years, Netscape was able to compete with Microsoft by
moving quickly and upgrading at a moment's notice. The only
developments we've seen out of Netscape in the past year, however,
have been weak upgrades to the aging Communicator 4.5. IE 4.0 went
head to head with Communicator and won hand's down; in fact, IE now
dominates Netscape 2-to-1 in marketshare. But IE 5.0 just raises
the bar. And where's Netscape in all of this? MIA.
- Unlike IE 4.0, IE 5.0 is completely componentized. That means
smaller and quicker downloads if you only want basic services. And
features can be added on the fly. Lots of Windows NT Server
administrators were thrown for a loop when upgrades like the NT
Option Pack, SQL Server 7.0, and Service Pack 4 required IE 4.0,
which was a buggy mess and a resource pig. These types of upgrades
will be less painful with IE 5.0.
- No more futzing with the Windows user interface. Unlike IE 4.0,
which ran rampant with changes to the Windows shell, the IE 5.0
team decided to stick to their strengths and upgrade the core
products only. This means that most of the improvements in IE 5.0
are under the covers, but it also means we're getting a faster,
more reliable, and more feature-rich release, not a bundling of
unwanted features rammed down our throats (Active Desktop,
Channels, and the Channel Bar come to mind: All are downplayed or
outright removed in IE 5.0. Thank God.).
- It works the way you want it to. Features such as Favorites, auto-complete, and Search now work logically and more efficiently. I'll cover these and other features in a full-length IE 5.0 review next week.