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Microsoft's much-anticipated IE7 browser is finally available for download, 18 months after Bill Gates announced plans to deliver Redmond's first major upgrade to its browser software since the release of IE6 in August 2001.

Key enhancements to IE 7 over IE 6 include anti-phishing features and improved ActiveX controls among several security improvements. The browser also promises enhancements to support web standards (such as HTML 4.01/CSS 2), the long-awaited introduction of tabbed browsing, and an integrated RSS feed reader. Many of these features are already included in Opera, and improved anti-phishing features will debut with the imminent (if delayed) arrival of Firefox 2.0, so to some extent market-leader Microsoft could be described as playing catch-up with its smaller rivals.

Some things don't change. Security researchers have already discovered an information disclosure vulnerability in IE7 (story here). The security bug - rated as "less critical" by Secunia, the first to warn of the problem - might be used to access documents served from another web site. So the security bug lends itself to possible misuse in various scam and phishing attacks, Thomas Kristensen, CTO of security notification firm Secunia, told El Reg.

Only English versions of IE7 for XP are available thus far. The software will run systems running Windows XP SP2, Windows XP Professional x64 Edition or Windows Server 2003 SP1. Arabic, Finnish, French, German, Japanese, and Spanish language versions will follow in around two weeks, Redmond promises, with other language releases to follow.

A customised version of the software from Yahoo! is already available for download. The release of other customised versions from MS partners such as Weather.com and USA Today are imminent. Much more on this and other IE7 news can be found on Microsoft's IE development blog.

The long-awaited next version of Microsoft's browser software will be pushed out as an automatic update in a "few weeks", probably as part of Microsoft's regular Patch Tuesday update cycle in either November or December. Firms not ready to install IE7 will be able to temporarily block the update.

Redmond has produced a variety of tools to aid web site testing ahead of widespread use of the browser software, as explained in a posting on its IE development blog. ®

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