Internet Explorer 5.01 (build 5.00.2919.6307 or 1963.07; Figure 1) is a point-release upgrade to IE 5.0 which fixes numerous security problems and other bugs while offering a number of other small changes (Figure 2). For me personally, IE 5.01 is a partial vindication of my complaints about IE 5.0, as Microsoft has fixed some problems that I've been complaining about since 1997. But IE 5.01, as a minor upgrade to IE 5.0, is not dramatically different from its predecessor. Visually, the two products are almost identical.

Incidentally, IE 5.01 is the version of Internet Explorer that will ship in Windows 2000 (as build 5.00.2920.0000 or 2000, go figure) when it's released in February.


Changes to Internet Explorer 5.01
Microsoft has partially fixed the "new window" bug in Internet Explorer 5.0 so that new windows open at the same size as the IE window that preceded them. In IE 5.0, this functionality was hopelessly broken and new browser windows would open willy-nilly on the screen in bizarre sizes. If I had my way, IE windows would open at the same size and same position as the window that preceded them, but this is enough to get me to shut up for now. The behavior of new IE windows is duplicated in Windows Explorer windows in Windows 2000 as well, interestingly: new windows are the same size, but at a slightly different position as the preceding window.

Microsoft has also significantly changed the way "browse in a new process" works in IE 5.01. In previous versions of Internet Explorer, there was an option in Advanced Options to allow each browser window to open in a new process. When selected, this meant that each browser window controlled its own memory space: If one browser window crashed, it couldn't take down the whole operating system, a pretty embarrassing problem when you're integrating the Web browser into the OS. In IE 5.01, this feature is not available as a user-selectable option. Instead, Microsoft has hard-coded behavior into the system based on the amount of RAM installed. If the system has 32MB of RAM or more, this feature is turned on by default. Otherwise, it's off. Frankly, this was a good decision: There's no reason for a user to need to tweak this kind of feature.

Another new feature reuses existing browser windows when a shortcut is launched, if desired. Available in Advanced Options, selecting "Reuse Windows for Launching Shortcuts" will use an existing browser window when a URL is opened from a shortcut or other non-browser entity (Figure 3). Otherwise, a new browser window will open. As someone who is frustrated every time a new link opens over an existing Web page, I'll definitely be unselecting this option. Kudos to Microsoft for including it.

Internet Explorer is also smarter about installing, upgrading, and uninstalling. When you choose to install or upgrade Internet Explorer 5.01 or higher, the Active Setup routine scans your system for IE files and only downloads and installs files that are newer than the ones currently on the system. This nicely reduces the amount of time it takes to do the upgrade, a nice touch. When uninstalling Internet Explorer 5.01, the previous version of IE is automatically restored since setup automatically saves this information for you. Previous versions of IE had sporadic problems with this feature in certain conditions.

Outlook Express received a few changes as well, such as the ability to request a read receipt on email (Figure 5) . This feature notifies you when email that you've sent is read, and it was previously only available in Microsoft's expensive Outlook 2000. Outlook Express also includes some new stationary, for those who are into that sort of thing.

But Microsoft has done users wrong by including an advertising pane when reading HotMail in Outlook Express (Figure 4). Hotmail support was first included in IE 5.0, but this new version ads an irritating pane at the bottom of the OE window that flashes advertisements when working with HotMail. Boo and hiss to the marketing dweebs that obviously demanded this feature. (Tip: If you do upgrade to IE 5.01, simply unselected "Outlook Express," and you can continue to use the previous version from IE 5.0 and not have to deal with that ads.)


Bugs, security violations, and other issues, oh my
Internet Explorer 5.01 fixes an unbelievable number of bugs and it is for this reason that most IE users will want to upgrade. Security problems and bugs of every nature were fixed, including some nasty ones that can leave IE 5.0 systems open to hacking attacks. Microsoft has a full list of bug fixes on its Web site, if you're interested in the gory details.


Conclusion
Despite my complaints about new windows and HotMail, Internet Explorer 5.01 is a must-have upgrade for any Windows user. Worth the trouble if only for the bug fixes, IE 5.01 also offers a few new cool features, though most of them are of an architectural nature and not very flashy. But Microsoft should be commended for issuing such a release, and it behooves any security conscious user to go grab it as quickly as possible.

And, of course, if you're using Windows 2000 RC2 or newer, you've already got the latest bits so you're ensured the best possible browsing experience from the get-go.   Screenshots

Figure 1: IE 5.01 is version 5.00.2920.000 on Windows 2K.



Figure 2: To the user, the IE 5.01 Web browser is same old, same old.



Figure 3: Advanced options has some new features such as "Reuse Windows for Launching Shortcuts."



Figure 4: Hotmail users may want to avoid OE 5.01 because of the annoying advertising pane.



Figure 5: Outlook Express also supports a "Read Receipt" feature.