Microsoft released Internet Explorer Preview Release 2 for Windows 95 and Windows NT 4.0 today, as well as Internet Explorer 4.0 Preview Release 1 for Windows 3.1. This release is described by Microsoft as "feature complete," meaning it is a reasonable example of the finished product, due in early September. Features added since the first beta, the so-called "Platform Preview Release," include Active Channel "Webcasting," better Windows shell integration, enhanced security, and a faster Java Virtual Machine (JVM). Unlike the Platform Preview Release, this release is geared toward a more general audience, not only Web developers.

"It basically is feature complete from our standpoint. We still want to get user feedback," said Yusuf Mehdi, product manager in the Internet Tools and Platform division at Microsoft. "It puts IE 4.0 out there as clearly the leadership product."

Microsoft is also announcing more than 250 content partners such as Disney, MSNBC, the New York Times, CBS Sportsline, EPSN Sportzone, MTV, National Geographic, and others that will supply "channel" content for IE 4.0 users. Content from 30 of those partners is already available.

Earlier this year, Microsoft ceded control of the Windows 95 and NT "shell" (the user interface, such as floating windows, toolbars, and the like) to the Internet Explorer team. All future user interface enhancements will come from the IE team, not the core operating system groups, and the result of their labor is readily apparent when IE 4 shell integration is enabled. Only hinted at in PPR1, shell integration is now a useable and desirable component, with numerous options and settings available.

IE 4 security is handled through a new feature called "Security Zones" that lets you set up different security settings for the Internet, your local network, and for "trusted" entities such as Microsoft and other major publishers. IE 4.0 also fully supports Dynamic HTML, which extends the browser object model used in JavaScript and VBScript with new capabilities.

So, should you download it? You bet. This is the best browser on the planet, bar none, and the shell integration is must-have feature. The full download will take a long time at 28.8, so leave your computer connected overnight if you have: IE 4.0 is worth it.

You can download Internet Explorer 4.0 for free from the IE 4.0 Web site