Microsoft this morning announced that the first widespread beta of Internet Explorer 4.0 would be available within 45 days for Windows 3.1, Windows 95, Windows NT 3.51 and 4.0, and the Macintosh. The final version of IE 4.0 for Windows 95 and Windows NT 4.0 is due this fall, with Mac, NT 3.51 and Windows 3.1 final releases due 30 days later. A Unix beta will be available by the end of the year, with a final release expected in early 1998.

This is the first time Microsoft has committed to a schedule for Internet Explorer 4.0, which is currently in a pre-beta "platform preview" version for Windows 95 and NT 4.0 only. The Macintosh version of IE 3.x, however, does contain some features from IE 4, such as "Smart Favorites" and "Auto-Complete."

While recent news about porting CDF to Netscape Netscaster and this delivery schedule for IE 4.0 are aimed squarely at the Netscape marketing machine, Microsoft Product Manager Kevin Unangst thinks that customers should think carefully before choosing their next browser.

"Even with Communicator coming out, there really are good reasons to examine Explorer 4.0 before a corporation makes a decision to move," he said. "They should compare the products head-to-head and make their decision."

The final release of Netscape Communicator will be made available tomorrow, but the Netcaster component--promised for this release--is still some time away. Netscape will probably release a second beta of Netcaster this week as well