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Microsoft — usually suspected, constantly feared. Their products are often met with distaste, though, in the Macintosh community, Internet Explorer has begun to leave its mark. The browser that literally fought its way into the hands of users is due for an update sometime later this Fall. And after calling in sick at last month's Macworld Expo due to a case of developmental shakes, the application has finally begun to take shape.
A Whole New Engine
The majority of the work done on Internet Explorer 5.0 has been to its HTML rendering engine — in fact, it has been completely rebuilt. Code-named Tasman, the new engine is said to bring respectable speed improvements, but more importantly, a common standard between the way HTML is displayed in both Internet Explorer and Mozilla (Netscape 5.0).
Tests performed by sources reveal that the current beta of Internet Explorer 5.0 does, indeed, perform slightly faster HTML rendering than its predecessor. On a 400MHz PowerBook G3 Series, version 5.0 rendered a 200-thread, table-intensive message board thread on an average of 7.6 seconds, while Internet Explorer 4.5 and Netscape 5.0 (Mozilla build M8) performed the same test at an average of 9.2 seconds and 22.4 seconds, respectively.
On the other hand, the current version of Netscape Communicator took the gold medal, performing the same HTML rendering on an average of just 5.1 seconds. It's important to note, however, that neither Internet Explorer 5.0 nor Netscape 5.0 are fully optimized at this point in their development cycles.
The Auction Manager
If you could pinpoint the single major feature addition to Internet Explorer 5.0 for the Macintosh, it would have to be the new Auction Manager. This handy little feature, which appears to be based on Internet Explorer's Subscriptions code base, will make tracking your many Internet auctions a simple and more pleasurable task.
By the same process of using Internet Explorer to "Subscribe" to a website, users of version 5.0 can now select a "Track Auction" option from the browser's Favorites menu. A dialog box then appears, asking the user for their auction ID used to bid at the specified website. From there, Internet Explorer adds the specified auction to the "Auction Manager," and the remainder of the process is fully automated.
The Auction Manager tray is very similar to the Subscriptions tray. Each auction that the user has chosen to track is listed with its current status, a labeled link to the auction, the time remaining in the auction, and finally a column that notes whether the user is currently the highest bidder, or has been "out-bid."
By default, Internet Explorer will check and alert the user of changes that have taken place on tracked auctions once every fifteen minutes. However, if users wish, they may take advantage of some powerful Auction Tracker customization options, like custom schedules.
Using the "Schedules" panel of Internet Explorer 5's Auction Tracker options, users can set their own time-check interval, including days of the week to check auctions and in-between times of the day. Additionally, Auction Tracker options include the ability to notify the user via dialog messages, sounds, or even a message to the user's e-mail address.
Microsoft initially plans to support the ten most-trafficked auction sites with their Auction Tracker feature, according to reliable information. The version tested by AppleInsider sources boasted full support for auctions at eBay and Amazon.com, but only partially supported sites like OnSale.com and uBid. Users will still be able to track auctions at less popular online bidding sites by manually entering data that would otherwise be parsed by the Auction Tracker feature, one source said.
Advanced Search Options
Another new feature, which at the time of this report was more of a work-in-progress, is a completely new set of integrated Internet search options. Apparently the folks at Microsoft have pulled all Apple Sherlock integration from Internet Explorer 5.0, which was poorly tied-in to begin with, and have decided to build up their own suite of search options.
The new Search Assistant — available via the Explorer Tabs anchored to the left side of the browser window — displays options for searching for a Web page, a person's address, a business, or a map. Options also exist for looking up a word or searching through news groups.
The feature is completely customizable, allowing users to choose between using a single search service for all their queries or take advantage of the full-blown assistant. Through the advanced assistant, users can pick and choose from a list of available search services for each kind of Internet search. For example, users can choose to use only Yahoo and Lycos for Web searches and MapQuest for finding Maps, or they can decided to search through every available database.
Users may also instruct the search assistant to save a specified number of searches for future reference.
The green and purple "globes" are gone in Internet Explorer 5.0, replaced with a more conservative IE preference file icon. And those overextending favorites bars are no longer a problem in the new version. Favorites on the favorites bar that extend past the width of the browser window are now shifted to a handy pop-up menu on the far right of the bar.
In addition, a more compact toolbar is displayed by default, and, as mentioned earlier, the Sherlock button has been completely removed. When clicking on image or textual links, a thick blue outline briefly appears, surrounding the perimeter of the linked area. Dragging large-scale embedded images from a page to a local hard disk now yields a smaller live preview image, speeding up the process.
A Show Related Links feature will also be present in the final release, sources said, as well as many smaller enhancements that are not yet fully functional at the time of this report.
Currently, Mac Internet Explorer 5.0 is in the mid-beta stages, and requires a PowerPC-based Macintosh and system 7.6.1 or greater. The release is expected sometime this Fall, along with Microsoft's Macintosh e-mail client, Outlook Express 5.0. Both applications will be available to Macintosh users at no charge.
We recently posted a full report on Outlook Express 5.0.