Microsoft's Internet Explorer 6 goes gold

Microsoft said Friday it expects to have the final version, or "Gold Code," of its newest Internet Explorer Web browser completed some time this week, marking a small milestone in the development of its new operating system.

Internet Explorer 6 (IE 6) is the browser that will be included with Microsoft's forthcoming Windows XP operating system, due for release on Oct. 25. A stand-alone version of the browser will be made available to consumers on the same date, a company spokesman said.

IE 6 is the successor to IE 5.5, the current version of Microsoft's Web browser. New features include Microsoft's Media Bar -- a panel running down the side of the browser which displays links to audio and video content on the Web. IE 6 will also sport an updated user interface that matches the look of Windows XP. Other features include an image toolbar designed to make it easier for users to save, e-mail and print images from the Web, and a new error dialogue box when the browser crashes or freezes up, Microsoft has said.

The browser will also include beefed up privacy features designed to give users more control over the personal information Web sites gather about them, the company has said. IE 6 supports P3P (Platform for Privacy Preferences), a standard being developed by the industry group W3C (World Wide Web Consortium), that has attracted growing industry support. A key feature of P3P is its ability to identify which Web sites collect cookies, and allow users to steer clear of Web sites that don't meet their criteria for privacy. Cookies are small files distributed by some Web sites that "tag" a browser when it visits a site. They can be used to track a user's activity on the Web.

Web sites that support P3P can publish their privacy policies in XML tags that are attached to the cookies they distribute. IE 6 will allow users to set their browsers in such a way that accepts or rejects those cookies, depending on the level of privacy offered by the site.

Microsoft will not include Smart Tags in IE 6, as it had previously planned. The company nixed the technology, which creates links to Web sites and other content from within the Web browser, after beta testers and some critics protested that Smart tags allowed Microsoft to steer users towards its own Web properties. The technology is included, however, in Microsoft's Office XP productivity suite.

The new browser also won't include built in support for Java, a programming language commonly used by Web sites to display dynamic content such as stock tickers and sports scores. Microsoft has included a Java Virtual Machine (JVM) in previous versions of Internet Explorer as well as its operating system, but ditched the technology in mid-July.

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