SAN FRANCISCO (01/24/2000) - Adding new bells and whistles to software upgrades is all well and good. But when it comes to Web browsers, users want software that loads pages quickly, renders them correctly, and won't interrupt an online session with repeated crashes. Microsoft Corp. (425/882-8080, http://www.microsoft.com) says it emphasized these goals when forging Internet Explorer 5.0, the latest Mac version of its Web browser. Among the enhancements is a new rendering engine, code-named Tasman, that generates HTML documents about 50 percent faster than Internet Explorer 4.5's. Microsoft says this version also improves accuracy when rendering files that include Cascading Style Sheets Levels 1 and 2, HTML 4.0, and XML; pages viewed through Internet Explorer 5.0 will look exactly as the markup specifies.
In addition to these under-the-hood improvements, Microsoft has streamlined the browser's search functions, letting you set up the results page to show only Web sites, addresses, or businesses. You can also customize which search engines you use, as well as find related links with a command in the Tools menu.
On top of the Page Holder feature introduced in Internet Explorer 4.5, the new version adds the Internet Scrapbook, a research tool that creates a permanent folder for storing Web content. You can recall stored Web pages even if their URLs change or disappear. Also new is the Media Bar, a small tool bar that lets you play multimedia content without a separate media player. Items you play with the Media Bar keep running even if you close the browser window or open new ones, making for a seamless multimedia experience.
Following Apple's iMac lead, Microsoft is also offering a choice of interface colors. Instead of viewing dialog boxes and other elements with plain gray backgrounds, you can choose from five colors that mirror the iMac's flavors.
One feature that could cause some controversy is the Auction Manager, which tracks online auctions in a special window, alerting you when an auction is ending or someone has outbid you. eBay, the leading online auctioneer, has sued other companies, such as AuctionWatch.com, that offer auction-tracking tools.
Microsoft says Auction Manager is just an alert function that doesn't infringe on eBay's software, but at press time Microsoft hadn't discussed the issue with the online auctioneer.