Microsoft To Launch IE 5.0, Collaborate With Rival Real

Microsoft Corp. will unveil Internet Explorer 5.0 on Thursday along with several new partnerships that will include a collaborative effort with Real Networks Inc., its rival in the streaming media market.

Microsoft claims the new browser will work faster. It is also adding the ability to filter out junk e-mail from Outlook Express, the accompanying e-mail client.

Microsoft’s deal with Real Networks will allow IE users to connect to Real’s enhanced RealGuide, a list of streaming media programming. It provides users with easy access to news stories as well as programming from a variety of radio and TV stations.

Real claims more than 55 million people now use its RealPlayer software. The company said actual RealPlayer usage has tripled over the past year to 15.5 million.

A Microsoft spokesman told The Wall Street Journal the Real collaboration is characteristic of a “push me, pull-you relationship” between the two companies.

In addition, Microsoft is expected to announce a deal with Alexa Internet to add a feature that allows users to navigate from one site to another with similar content.

The browser will also include Microsoft’s Agent technology, consisting of animated characters that speak using text-to-speech software. It also features an improved Microsoft Wallet to improve online shopping. Microsoft Wallet saves credit card numbers and other information to speed access to e-commerce sites.

The release of IE 5.0 comes as Microsoft continues to increase its browser market share. The latest numbers from International Data Corp. put Microsoft’s share of the browser market at 44 percent of all browsers. That number includes users of America Online whose access software includes a browser based on IE technology. Meanwhile, Netscape’s share dropped from 51 percent to 42 percent by the end of last year.

Version 5.0 also reportedly contains tighter integration with Microsoft’s Hotmail e-mail service. However, Microsoft refused to confirm that feature.

One feature that has generated some criticism is Microsoft’s extension of the auto-complete function to include Web forms. Some are concerned because when the feature is used in forms, it can cause the browser to remember user names, passwords and credit card numbers.

Microsoft said the feature has to be activated by the user.

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