Downloading Internet Explorer 5 means a wealth of new features for the adventurous beta tester. The second preview release of the browser (made available last week) integrates Web-based e-mail, remembers passwords on Web pages, and loads sites faster.
Importantly, the program also lets content providers more easily offer their wares to you.
Called Web Accessories, these add-ons continue the recent trend of tying browsers to content. In Microsoft's case, Internet Explorer now offers vendors the ability provide content in the browser as a separate, persistent pane.
"The download is very small," about 100KB, says Mike Nichols, product manager for Windows. "You could create an Explorer bar, just above the status bar, that appears as a 1/2-inch pane that provides top news of the day." For instance, Bloomberg Financial Markets will use the new integration capability to offer a customised pane at the bottom of the browser, which will offer stock quotes and news in a browser pane.
You download a file that makes a few changes to your Registry, and Bloomberg's updates will continue as you browse other sites. MSN will also use the Web Accessories feature to provide a toolbar that takes you to the online service's e-mail and news.
"Users typically have one site they access more than other sites," says Ron Rappaport, industry analyst at Zona Research. "If there's relevant content displayed from a portal site, a financial site, or my own site, it can provide value."
Is this feature a useful one, or just a route for ads that (shudder) never disappear? "The little window is a godsend for marketing purposes, because [providers] can rush to advertisers and say their content is persistent," Rappaport says. "But if it's a window to pump marketing messages through, it may be perceived as more of a nuisance than a benefit."