Beta versions of Microsoft's next generation browser, Internet Explorer 7, were intended just for developers and very early adopters.
That all changed today when Microsoft released its latest IE 7 Beta 2 build, which has dropped the "preview" moniker and is available to tens of millions of users in English via Microsoft's Web site.
Though IE 7 Beta 2 Preview was downloaded "millions of times" according to Margaret Cobb, Internet Explorer Group Product Manager at Microsoft, it was not really intended for mass consumption and was targeted at a developer audience.
IE 7 Beta 2 is a bit of different beast. It is still not quite ready for mass consumption, but open to a wider audience of early adopters and tech enthusiasts.
The IE 7 Beta train began last summer with a Beta 1 release, which was not intended for public consumption.
Within a day of the release of IE 7 Beta 1, pirated versions of IE 7 Beta 1 were zipping around the Internet.
Beta 2 Preview was publicly released in January and updated most recently at the Microsoft MIX conference in March. At that time Microsoft first declared that IE 7 was "layout complete."
During a recent IE developer discussion, the IE 7 Beta 2 Preview included a long list of new and improved features. Among them are tabbed browsing, integrated RSS, better standards compliance and advanced security
"What we have been working on has been under the covers," Cobb said. "For the past couple of months we have been working on improving the reliability of the browser and improving the compatibility with sites," she said.
"With this build we are confident enough with compatibility and reliability that we can go to a much broader audience of tech enthusiasts like the readers of internetnews.com and ask them to start running the product on a daily basis."
Though there are no new features in the latest IE 7 Beta 2 build, Microsoft is adding a few service enhancements for users. Users of IE 7 Beta 2 will get unlimited phone support from Microsoft for the new browser. Microsoft is also improving the visibility of its IE add-ons through a new Web address at
Until now, add ons for IE were available via the Windows Marketplace site.
The final version of IE 7 is expected to be released sometime in the second half of 2006.
"Now we're going to use the time to clean up the fit and finish of the product and ensure the maximum compatibility and reliability between now and our final release," Cobb said.