Windows 7 screen shot.
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"The Windows 7 Beta includes a beta of Internet Explorer 8," noted Microsoft program manager Paul Cutsinger, in a blog post.
"I say 'a beta' because IE8 in Windows 7 Beta is a pre-release candidate build of IE: It's IE8 Beta 2 plus end user features that are only available on Windows 7 plus many fixes based on feedback from IE8 Beta 2 usage," Cutsinger wrote in his blog, which was posted Saturday.
Among other things, the Explorer 8 beta included in Windows 7 provides a first look at a feature that gives users a thumbnail view of all open browser tabs when the Explorer icon is moused over.
Another new feature exclusive to Windows 7, called Jump List, allows users to open IE8 and navigate to a specific site in a single step. Right clicking on the Explorer icon brings up a customizable list of sites that can be jumped to directly.
Explorer 8 also adds standards long ignored by Microsoft. Among other things, IE8 will feature default compatibility with Web standards such as CCS 2.1 and HTML 5. It also promises improved support for the Ajax language, and other W3C Internet programming guidelines.
On Saturday, Microsoft dropped limits on the number of copies of the Windows 7 beta it plans to make available to PC enthusiasts after a crush of download requests for the new OS brought its servers to a halt over the weekend.
Last week at CES 2009 in Las Vegas, CEO Steve Ballmer raised expectations around Windows 7.
"We are on track to deliver the best version of Windows ever. We're putting in all the right ingredients -- simplicity, reliability, and speed, and working hard to get it right, and to get it ready," said Ballmer. Compared to the widely maligned Vista, Windows 7 "should boot more quickly, have longer battery life, and fewer alerts," Ballmer added.
Ballmer also touted Windows 7's improved support for networking and multimedia content, as well as its touch-screen capabilities.
Microsoft needs Windows 7 to be a hit. Vista, the current version of Windows, has failed to catch on with mainstream computer users and businesses have shunned it outright. Many users have complained about Vista's hardware requirements, intrusive security measures, and lack of compatibility with older applications.
Dissatisfaction with Vista has allowed Apple to gain share against Microsoft in the computer operating system market in recent months. Windows' market share in November fell below 90% for the first time in years, while Mac OS is now flirting with the 10% mark, according to market watcher Net Applications.
Microsoft is hoping that Windows 7, which is expected to be released in its final form in late 2009 or early 2010, will stem the tide.