Internet Explorer 5: The Best Browser, Hands Down

SAN FRANCISCO (05/30/2000) - Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer 5 is not only the best Web browser ever released for the Macintosh, but also arguably the best Web browser ever released for any computing platform. Built for speed and compliant with Internet standards, IE 5 strikes an excellent balance between users' needs and developers' desires. Thanks to performance far superior to that of the aging Netscape Communications Corp.'s Navigator 4.X, there's no compelling reason not to download the new version.

IE 5 for the Mac is the first browser on any platform to correctly and fully implement the two-year-old HTML 4 and CSS-1 Web standards. That's important because standards let designers ensure that their pages display correctly on any browser that supports those standards. But IE 5 still has a ways to go; it offers only partial support for the XML, CSS-2, and DOM-1 standards, which will usher in the next wave of Web innovation.

A browser's most important mission is to make pages look good and download quickly. With IE 5's new page-rendering engine, pages appear faster than in IE 4.5, the former Mac browser speed champ. If a Web page doesn't render correctly in IE 5, it was probably tweaked to look good in noncompliant browsers such as Navigator 4.X or IE 5 for Windows. IE 5 for the Mac tries to make the best of such a page by rendering it according to its DOCTYPE HTML tag. Older DOCTYPE tags cause IE to switch on"quirk emulation," where it (usually successfully) attempts to mimic thebehavior of other, older browsers.

In a bid to solve the widespread problem of Web pages authored in Windows appearing with tiny type on Macs, IE 5 introduces switchable screen resolution.

By default, IE displays pages at 96 dpi (the Windows standard), but you can set the browser's resolution to match your screen's resolution. (For more information about screen resolution, see "IE 5 Changes How Mac Users See the Web.")Microsoft hasn't skimped on new features or eye candy. The program's tool bars and icons been updated, and you can customize them with your favorite iMac color. The Favorites tool bar now lets you include folders, which turn into pop-up menus of bookmarks when you click on them. The Address Bar still autocompletes typed URLs, but it now drops down a list of matching URLs that change as you type and lets you tab or scroll through the list. And fans of Macromedia Inc.'s Flash will be happy to note that IE for the Mac can now use JavaScript to detect plug-ins, so sites that rely on Flash should work correctly.

Two other new features are especially useful. The redesigned Explorer Bar contains an Internet Scrapbook tab that takes snapshots of Web pages for future reference, and the new Auction Manager tracks items, bids, and time remaining on eBay, Amazon, and Yahoo auctions. You can set the Auction Manager to check the status of auctions and notify you if you're outbid, though it doesn't list the current price or help place or increase bids. The Explorer Bar's new Search Assistant, on the other hand, fails on most counts: it's ugly, slow, and barely customizable.

Macworld's Buying Advice

It's always heartwarming when Microsoft's Mac developers produce a better product than their Windows counterparts, and Internet Explorer 5 for the Mac takes the lead in a big way. It supports Web standards better than any other shipping browser, it solves the problem of pages rendering differently across platforms, and it adds innovative features such as the Internet Scrapbook. This is a welcome case where the upgrade decision is a no-brainer: just get it.

RATING: 4.5 mice

PROS: Excellent support for some Web standards; useful Internet Scrapbook; solves screen-resolution problems.

CONS: Poor Search Assistant; needs additional standards support.

COMPANY: Microsoft (425/882-8080, http://www.microsoft.com).

LIST PRICE: Free.

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