Given the problems we've seen with Internet Explorer (IE) 5.01 Service Pack 1 (SP1) this week, it is with some trepidation that I must report that Microsoft has now released IE 5.5, the next major revision to its Windows Web browser. IE 5.5, which was actually completed well over a month ago, follows closely on the heels of IE 5.01 SP1, and the two products were ostensibly tested together. Two other related products are set to reach other milestones next week, when Microsoft releases the final version of Windows Media Player 7 and the second preview release of MSN 6, code-named Mars.

With the browser wars behind us, Microsoft has slowed down development of the IE client, leading some to wonder whether an IE 6.0 release is even in the cards anymore. IE 5.5 includes only the barest of end user updates with a new Print Preview feature and improved support for Dynamic HTML (DHTML) and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), two technologies that help developers create more interactive Web sites. But with Microsoft working on its next generation Dot NET "user experience" (UE) in MSN 6, one might wonder whether IE will simply be merged into the MSN client codebase, since MSN 6 will form the basis of future user interfaces from the company anyway. Sources tell me that much of the team responsible for IE is, in fact, now working on MSN 6. Whether this situation changes after the release of MSN 6--due later this summer--remains to be seen.

If you're a Windows 2000 user that's interested in installing IE 5.5, you should be aware of a few issues first: The IE 5.5 download will only update the Web browser itself and the scripting component. If you wish to upgrade Outlook Express or any of the other IE-related components that get upgraded automatically on other versions of Windows, you will need to install Windows 2000 Service Pack 1 (SP1, which isn't yet available) or IE 5.01 SP1 first. According to Microsoft, this ridiculous situation is necessitated by a feature in Windows 2000 called "Windows File Protection." But this problem doesn't affect Windows Me, which offers a similar feature (System File Protection), and Windows Me users will experience no issues upgrading to the final version of IE 5.5 (why this doesn't ship with Windows Me in the first place is another bizarre issue). IE 5.5 is also supported on Windows 95, Windows 98, and Windows NT 4.0 SP3 or higher.

I'm going to be writing up an IE 5.x install guide for the Windows SuperSite this week, due to the bizarre problems with IE 5.x and Windows 2000. To download IE 5.5 now, please visit the Microsoft Web site