Microsoft released a public beta of Internet Explorer 5.0 over the summer but it was geared toward developers eager to take advantage of new programming features; from an end-user standpoint, there wasn't anything compelling. That's going to change in about two weeks when Microsoft releases the second public beta of IE 5.0, which will finally provide a feature-complete look at the company's next generation browser.

Internet Explorer 5.0, which will be released simultaneously with Office 2000 in February, offers numerous improvements for even the most casual Web surfers, including new smart search technology, a Favorites Tune-Up Wizard, and a new HTML-based Organize Favorites dialog that makes Favorites management a snap.

IE 5.0 users will see further OS integration when they browse to an FTP site and the browser turns into a My Computer-style view of the site. Items on the FTP site, such as files and folders, can be dragged to the desktop or any other location on your system in the same way that you copy files across the hard drive. Uploading a file is just as easy; simply drag it to the location on the FTP site you'd like.

"It will be easier to browse HTTP sites and FTP folders," said Internet Explorer product manager Mike Nichols.

The new Search feature includes a Wizard that creates intelligent and more accurate search results while a drop-down menu provides a list of the search words that were found. IE 5.0 will synchronize Favorites and History items so that you can navigate to those pages when you're offline.

But the nicest feature, perhaps, is a new "Intelliforms" feature that will remember the values you fill into Web forms (if you'd like), such as your first and last name, address, and the like. This can be a real time saver depending on the types of sites you visit.

The new Outlook Express 5.0 email client improves on the original by adding a customizable Outlook Bar, integration with HotMail, and spam filtering