Get up to Speed on Windows XP

Windows XP

Story Contents


Facts & Figures

Home & Pro Differences

Behind the New Wheel

Folders & Special Folders

Looking at 'My Pictures'

Windows Media Player 8

Internet Explorer 6.0

Functional Improvements

Personal Firewall

Remote Assistance

Backup & Restore

Product Activation

Hardware and Setup

Will Your Programs Run?


Beta Conclusions

Meet Internet Explorer 6.0

Originally, IE 6.0 was supposed to get a new look that was similar to MSN Explorer, a custom version of IE created for Microsoft's MSN service. But only a couple weeks after Beta 2 became available, Microsoft decided that, due to customer feedback, it was eliminating the new "Personal Bar" and "Contacts" pieces of IE 6.0. We think that's a good change because those features took up a lot of space and didn't offer most people anything truly useful. A lot of us are tired of software features that are really just there to make the newest version look different from the previous version. This was the classic example.

So what does that leave that's new in IE 6.0? According to Microsoft, the new browser offers advances in "media playback, privacy, standards support, image browsing, performance, and stability." In our experience, stability is the thing IE 6.0 needs most to improve over IE 5.5, and it's too soon to judge that. But early indications are that IE 6.0 will run better on most people's PCs than IE 5.5 does. Like previous versions of Internet Explorer, IE 6.0 will also be available as a separate download that will run on Windows 98, ME, NT, and 2000 PCs. You can expect the downloadable version to appear right around the time Windows XP is released.

What's New
It may take you a few looks to find your way around the new IE 6.0 toolbar. Although they're different, the new icons aren't that much more intuitive than the old ones. For example, take the History tool: old icon, sundial; new icon: clock with a backwards-swooshing arrow. Maybe the notion of "history" just doesn't take well to an icon.

Remember how Microsoft integrated IE with Windows to gain browser share? Well now it's integrating MSN Messenger with IE6 to gain instant messaging share. There's a tool on the toolbar that takes you to MSN Messenger, and it starts automatically when you start Windows. If you don't want MSN Messenger to run, it's possible to disable it. Just open the Tools > Options dialog and tell it not to launch, and remove the toolbar icons in IE through View > Toolbars > Customize. Add/Remove Programs does not offer a way to uninstall MSN Messenger, though, so the files will remain on your hard disk whether you want it there are not. We think the time is past for this kind of heavy-handedness with programs. Everything should be uninstallable.

The best Web browser on the planet shows truly modest improvements. We'll be happy if the final version is more reliable than IE 5.5.
Click to see larger image

The best Web browser on the planet shows truly modest improvements. We'll be happy if the final version is more reliable than IE 5.5.

There are a few functional changes, or at least the promise of change. The most important one is the new Privacy tab on the Tools > Internet Options menu. The main goal of the Privacy tab is to provide more control over cookies and other personal data that you might be showing to a website. Privacy appears unfinished in XP Beta 2's version of IE6. Perhaps the missing functionality will be replaced when Microsoft completes this dialog by adding the "import privacy settings" option that Microsoft has promised but not yet implemented.

Since the cookie controls were taken out of the Security dialog, you'd think there would at least be the same degree of control over cookies as there was with IE5. In the version we tested, though, there's only the three-level slider that changes all the settings in unison. In IE5 it was possible to adjust cookie settings on a per-site basis by putting particular sites into the Trusted or Restricted zone. So far, that feature is lost in IE6. Most sites don't yet post privacy policies in a way that IE6 can recognize. While we agree with the spirit of what Microsoft intends, basing privacy on a posted policies isn't going to be a realistic way of handling the problem for a long time to come. And we don't think it should be the only way. The right solution is the ability to customize the privacy settings manually on a per-site basis, as well as the slider feature. Hopefully, Microsoft will figure this out.

One new feature in IE 6.0 worth pointing out is called Auto Image Resize. You no longer need to scroll horizontally or vertically to view large pictures. If pictures are too large to display in the browser window, the Auto Image Resize shrinks them to fit.

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