A New Browser on the Block

Following on the fading footsteps of Netscape's latest release, Microsoft has finally issued the latest version of their popular web browsing software: Internet Explorer 6. Over the next few weeks I'll have a chance to really put this new browser through its paces, but for now, I have a few thoughts on its apparent strengths and weaknesses.

I have been a fan of MSIE since version 2 hit the market, many years (or so it seems) ago. Consequently, I have always eagerly awaited the next release, some of which have been bigger and better, others that have seemed to be more of a maintenance patch. With this in mind, I have welcomed the latest addition to this thoroughbred stable of software; and whether I choose to use it for my own surfing or simply as a platform for testing cross-browser site compatibility, it is now a part of my growing toolbox — and should be an addition to yours as well.

Time for An (Inter) facelift
One thing that is immediately noticeable is that IE 6 is an incremental upgrade, not a complete overhaul, of the popular IE 5+. The interface remains relatively unchanged on this new version, mirroring the appearance of the "MSN" branded version of IE, with the main visual differences being targeted towards a more unified look with the Windows XP family of products. I find this interface to be familiar and intuitive, and while perhaps it's not flashy enough for some users, its functionality is a great plus for more serious users. Still, a new look may be more than welcome in any future release.

Cookies on Your Private Parts
Increasing your online privacy is always a good thing, and here IE 6 really shines - although some Webmasters may not appreciate the "glare." A more robust cookie management system is at the heart of this increased privacy support, allowing you the choice of accepting or rejecting cookies from individual Web sites.

To set cookie preferences, click the Tools > Internet Options menu and select Privacy.

A dialog box will be displayed (see above), allowing you to choose whether to accept or reject all third-party cookies (such as those set by advertising programs that monitor you as you browse around the 'net). An additional dialog box allows you to select individual sites, specifying whether to accept or reject cookies from each site. You can also request to be prompted for action on a cookie-by-cookie basis, but given the prevalence of cookies, this is a tedious process. All told, IE 6 now has cookie management features that equal (and in some instances surpass) those found in the competing Netscape 6. Another noticeable change (and one that will affect adult site designers) is the new Media Bar.

More Multimedia Madness
Another noticeable change (and one that will affect adult site designers) is the new Media Bar. Residing on the left side of the browser window, the Media Bar lets you play streaming video and audio feeds without popping a separate window. This allows you to visit other Web pages while your audio or video stream continues to play within the Media Bar. Since videos are scaled to fit within the Media Bar (making them small enough to be difficult to watch), IE 6 offers design and marketing opportunities that are intriguing indeed.

Grappling with Giant Graphics
Another neat feature that will prove handy for many adult site surfers is the new Image Toolbar. This will allow you to quickly and easily save, e-mail, and print images found on any Web page. You can also view all of your saved pictures in your "My Pictures" folder.

When you select an image on a Web page, the Image Toolbar will appear, providing access to all "My Pictures" functions. Images that will not display in the browser window without scrolling will be automatically resized to make them fit. If you are viewing an image that fits within the current browser window, and then you change the window's dimensions, IE 6 will automatically adjust the image to fit the new window's size. Image distortion upon resizing is prevented by equally adjusting the image's height and width (even if only one of the dimensions needs to be adjusted). A small "button" floating on the lower right corner of the image can be clicked, scaling the image to its normal size.

Was it worth the wait? While few outside of Redmond's PR Department would consider IE 6 to be groundbreaking, it is a glimpse of the future, and a worthwhile download. There are many minor new features and enhancements not listed here, but perhaps not enough to scrap your existing IE 5+ installation. Still, it will be necessary to test for compatibility with this browser, as newbies with their first computer and early adopters of Windows XP will all be using it. The best advice that I can give is to get your own copy today and see for yourself if IE 6 was worth the wait. ~ Stephen

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