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Hype, hijinks greet IE4.0

Microsoft's Internet Explorer 4 for Windows 95 was released on schedule last week with customary media razzmatazz and post-party high jinks, such as a 10ft by 12ft IE4 logo being dumped on the doorstep of the Californian headquarters of Netscape, its browser rival. Netscape denounced such juvenile antics before getting its own 12ft mascot (a green Godzilla-like foam creature called Mozilla), giving it a placard that said "Netscape 72, Microsoft 18" (an optimistic estimate of the distribution of the respective browsers) and sitting it on top of the Microsoft logo. The reaction of analysts to the launch was that while the browser, with its push channels, makes surfing the Web easier, it is too complicated and is not a technological breakthrough.

Even Microsoft's chief executive officer, Bill Gates, was careful not to get carried away. "Internet Explorer 4.0 is a nice step forward," he said. "It's pretty significant, but it still could be simpler."

There has been a rush of big companies, such as Apple, Dell, Excite, Sony and AOL, pledging to distribute and support the software. In turn, that has prompted the Consumer Project on Technology, formed by the legendary consumer advocate Ralph Nader, to call for the US government to stop Microsoft giving away the browser. "Microsoft should not be permitted to drive Netscape and other products out of the market by offering the Microsoft Explorer free, and Microsoft should not be permitted to bundle [IE] with its operating system, or integrate [IE] with the operating system in ways that are unavailable to other firms," said an open letter to the US Department of Justice's anti-trust division. The department is still investigating Microsoft's development and marketing practices with computer manufacturers regarding Internet Explorer 3.0, but it has not yet taken any action.

Sun unhappy about Java

Meanwhile, Sun Microsystems, the driving force behind the Java programming language, is unhappy with Microsoft's implementations of Java in Internet Explorer 4.0 and has been testing the browser and looking at its code to see if Microsoft is in breach of the terms of its Java licence.

A statement and reaction are expected this week, although commentators do not foresee Sun going ahead with its threat to revoke Microsoft's licence. Mac and Windows 3.x previews of IE 4.0 are available for download from www.microsoft.com. A final Mac version is due in 60-90 days. It will be closely followed by Windows 3.1 and Unix versions.

Online debate of white paper

UK Citizens' Online Democracy, a non-partisan, non-profit-making organisation that uses electronic media to promote public participation in the democratic process, has won government support and co-operation to set up an independent consultation, discussion and information Web site focused on the Freedom of Information White Paper due to be published at the end of next month. It will be the first time in this country that the general public will be able to participate in law-making by interacting online directly with the Government prior to a Bill's passage through Parliament.

Dr David Clark, the minister responsible for the White Paper and for steering the Bill through Parliament, has agreed to join members of the public in a moderated online question-and-answer session when the site is launched next month. The Web site, which will include audio and video, conferencing tools and other resources, is currently under construction. Information updates and progress reports will be available at http://www. democracy.org.uk

Intel's plan to speed up Web

This month Intel is running beta tests with 1,200 Web users of a technology called QuickWeb which should halve the download time of image-rich Web pages by using a combination of on-the-fly compression techniques and caching. The software will run on the servers of participating Internet service providers (ISPs) and at key network access points. "It looks intelligently at pixels in each image to see what can be eliminated," Intel's Jon Jackson said, "and the rest is compressed using different algorithms depending on the image. It makes a dramatic difference in access times. There's no colour-melting, and to the eye there's hardly any discernible difference."

When a user visits a Web page, the customer's ISP downloads the entire site on to a preview server which acts as a cache and subsequent visits to the site are delivered quickly from the stored data. Intel hopes that if QuickWeb proves popular with ISPs and users, it could be adapted for use on corporate intranets and international Internet gateways.

Andy Oldfield

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