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Microsoft IE 6 to cut off some more air supplies

Embraces and extends path blazed by MSN Explorer

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Microsoft is going into testing of Internet Explorer 6, a product that'll be integrated in Whistler, and which is clearly intended to take IE further down the integration trail. Both Windows Media Player and the MSN Instant Messenger client will be hard-wired further into the browser, and Microsoft also seems to be considering adding antivirus capabilities to Outlook Express - which itself is integrated into the browser these days.

Microsoft will still likely be appealing when Whistler and IE 6 ship, but that's still an impressive triple legal matter that won't be addressed for as long as Judge Jackson's remedies remain in suspended animation. With Media Player and IM Microsoft is integrating out two of the usual victims, but if the antivirus plan goes ahead it'll be destabilising a whole new set of companies.

This is of course all part of the 'damn the torpedoes' strategy Microsoft adopted when it became clear the trial was going bad on it. As there's no sense from the company's point of view in avoiding provoking the antitrust authorities any more, it might as well just carry on as normal, but more so, and bet the lot on winning in the end. Or leaving as much opposition as possible sufficiently Netscaped for it to be impossible to put them back together again.

Paul Thurrott's WinInfo reports that many of the new features in IE 6 simply copy functionality already present in MSN Explorer, the rather more hard-wired implementation Microsoft put out for MSN users earlier this year. Paul also trails the prospect of as yet unknown extensions to Dynamic HTML for 6.

MSN Explorer at least has a kind of alibi for the approach taken in that it's intended as a simple version of the browser for newbie types, so there's at least an argument that says they should have less choices available to them.

But by carrying these 'lock-in' features over to IE in general, Microsoft is kind of undermining that argument - why should these choices be Microsoft choices, and why is it getting even more difficulty to make alternative choices?

Microsoft first added the Explorer bars features to Internet Explorer 4 in 1997, and the company has integrated them into Windows Explorer as well. Current versions of Internet Explorer offer three such bars, including Search, for searching Web site content; Favorites, for storing and managing frequently visited Web sites; and History, for quickly finding sites that you've recently visited. IE 6 will add two more Explorer bars, the Media bar and an Instant Messenger (IM) bar. The Media bar will integrate a Windows Media Player control into the browser in the same way that a player is integrated into MSN Explorer. The Instant Messenger bar, which might be called the Online Buddies bar by the time IE 6 ships, will integrate the MSN Instant Messenger client into the browser, again in a manner similar to that in MSN Explorer.

IE 6 will also feature as-yet-unknown extensions to Dynamic HTML (DHTML) and other features for Web developers, as well as a My Pictures feature that will allow users to easily view, save, and email pictures over the Internet. ®

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