Small enhancements give IE5 a big boost

With the release of Internet Explorer 5.0, Microsoft Corp. has not added any major features to its World Wide Web browser, but the company has made dozens of lesser enhancements that add up to a smoother ride on the Web for end users and fewer headaches for systems administrators.

Among the most welcome changes, IE5 is more stable, so users will experience fewer crashes and lockups. And, thanks in large part to new caching techniques, it seems to load pages faster. Caching involves storing frequently needed information locally, such as the text of a Web site, so that the software does not have to retrieve it across the Internet repeatedly. Among other changes, IE5 caches the layout of a Web site as well as the content, while IE4 did not.

Still, at first glance, users will see very little different when booting up IE5. The interface looks virtually the same as in the previous version. The toolbar has not changed, and the panel to the left of the main display can be toggled to display either search tools, favorites (bookmarks) or a listing of previously visited sites.

Spend a little more time with the program, however, and some significant differences between IE4 and IE5 emerge.

To begin with, IE4's already excellent search tools have been revamped in IE5. You can still pop open a search panel on the left side of the display so that you can move through search results without having to backtrack from Web sites, as other browsers require.

Now, however, the search panel lets you specify whether to search for a Web page, a person's address, a company or organization, a map or a previous search. Depending upon which option you select, IE5 will automatically employ different search engines. If you are searching for an e-mail address, for example, IE5 will automatically check InfoSpace.com and Bigfoot.com, two search engines that specialize in retrieving names, phone numbers and addresses.

Even better, regardless of which general type of search you specify, IE5 will automatically step through different search engines for the terms you have specified.

The only knock on IE5's search tools is that you cannot specify that a search be performed only on one search engine low on the list of engines. The first search must always be on whichever engine you have specified as the first in the cycle. You cannot even access a list of search engines until you have used that first engine. After that, you can click the Next button to summon a look-up list and then select the alternate engine you want to use.

In addition, IE5 offers a grab bag of lesser, but still very welcome, enhancements. In fact, day to day some of the so-called minor enhancements may prove to some users to be even more welcome than the major enhancements. Take, for example, IE5's new ability to complete Uniform Resource Locator entries automatically as users type them by looking at sites previously visited.

Another seemingly minor enhancement is IE5's new ability to save an entire Web page, including images. That may not seem like a big deal until you try to mail an article to a contractor and find that, with another browser, the page comes through with the diagrams.

While nearly all of the improvements in this version of Internet Explorer are ease-of-use enhancements to the user interface, there are a few other improvements that will please users and systems administrators. IE5 makes connecting to the Internet easier through its new ability to autodetect the available types of connections and connect appropriately. The program also provides enhanced support for Hypertext Markup Language 4.0 and Extensible Markup Language -- two technologies increasingly being used to build Web pages.

The caution to consider before moving to Internet Explorer from another browser is that the program is hungry for memory and disk space. Where Netscape Communications Corp.'s Navigator requires only 8M of system memory and 11M of disk space, a minimal install of IE5 under Windows 95 or 98 requires 16M of RAM and 45M of disk space.

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