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Microsoft's Internet Explorer 4.0 for Solaris provids GUI-based alternative to Lynx

By Robert McMillan

November  1997
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San Francisco (November 5, 1997) -- If you want to sell your development tools to the enterprise, it sometimes helps to have client software that supports them. Microsoft Corp. seems to be applying that lesson today as it releases a beta version of its Internet Explorer 4.0 browser for Unix -- two years behind its rival Netscape Communications Corp.

The project, apparently, was not an easy one. Bristol Technology was originally assigned the Unix IE project in the summer of 1996, but Microsoft decided to bring the work in-house in March of this year. Why IE on Unix took so long is unclear. Members of the current IE Unix team claimed to know nothing at all about the whole Bristol experience -- not even the company's name.

Solaris is the only Unix platform supported by IE today, but Microsoft has plans to ship HP-UX, AIX, and Irix "soon," according to Microsoft. No Linux port is planned.

Microsoft's group manager for the Unix browser, Ramesh Parameswaran, says that, compared to IE for Windows, "the main difference is in the look and feel of the application itself," which is based on the Motif interface. Ramesh says IE 4.0 can also do things like use the third mouse button and link up with other Unix applications. You can, for example link to Emacs to write mail within Internet Explorer or even use vi (the text editor you'll find on almost any Unix sysytem) as your source HTML editor. Another difference is the fact that Microsoft's Channels and True Web integration features are not supported in IE for Unix.

Ramesh says that Microsoft's motivation in shipping IE for Unix is simple: customer demand. "A lot of our corporate customers have lots of existing Solaris and HP installed base," he explains. "What they want is a browser that works across different operating systems."

Netscape product manager Edith Gong says she doesn't expect IE to encroach on her company's corporate sales, despite the product that Microsoft's product is free while Communicator is not. "Free isn't free," she says. "We've seen that in other platforms because there's more to ownership than just the initial cost of the product." Gong says that customers want more than just a browser and faults Microsoft for not including things like an e-mail client, HTML authoring tools, or conferencing software.

Informal tests by SunWorld staff revealed that IE (running on Solaris 2.5.1) shares Communicator's propensity for crashing -- especially at -- and that Microsoft's product is not completely comfortable in the OpenWindows environment. Cutting and pasting URLs from mail into Internet Explorer seems difficult, if not impossible: a bug, err...feature that plagued early versions of Netscape's browser as well.

Internet Explorer 4.0 preview 1 for Unix
click for larger image (40K)

Having now released core Microsoft browser features for the Solaris platform, the next logical step is to extend them. Microsoft says that the final release of IE for Unix, expected in the first quarter of 1998, will include NetShow audio and video streaming software and the Outlook Express mail client. Conferencing software (a la Microsoft NetMeeting) from Data Connection Ltd. is also being readied for Q1 1998.

So why would you use Internet Explorer 4.0? Ramesh answers, "the key thing I would point to is our implementation of standard dynamic HTML," which he says is superior to Netscape's Communicator. IE also has a feature called Security Zones, which enables administrators to turn off Java, scripting, or even ActiveX on specific Web sites. Ramesh cites IE's ability to hook into Unix mail or HTML editing applications as another competitive advantage.

Internet Explorer 4.0 preview 1 is available for Solaris, free of charge, as of today.


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