Following last week's news of confusion within Microsoft regarding the release date for Internet Explorer 5 for the Mac, a senior product manager for the software giant has clarified matters and promised the new version of the Mac Web browser will ship "very, very soon". He also states that Microsoft is "hard at work" on the next version of its Office suite of business applications for the Macintosh.

Irving Kwong, product manager for Microsoft's Macintosh Business Unit, cleared up the confusion by telling Macworld that: "Any rumours of a June/July availability of IE5 Macintosh Edition are inaccurate and frankly, the farthest thing from the truth". Kwong apologizes for "any confusion on our parts".

"Expect to see IE5 available very, very, very soon," Kwong told Macworld. "We are putting the final touches on the most significant version of IE for the Mac ever created, and firmly believe that this is going to be the best Macintosh browser available and the browser of choice for Mac enthusiast around the world."

Able Tasman "IE5 includes the all new Tasman rendering engine (leader in support for open Internet standards) and innovative Mac-first features that you won’t find anywhere else," Kwong adds.

With Tasman, Internet Explorer 5 now provides full support for the published Internet content standards as defined by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

In IE5 Macintosh Edition, Microsoft claims it has "achieved full standards support" for HTML 4.0, Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) 1.0, Document Object Model (DOM) 1.0 HTML, Extensible Markup Language (XML) and Portable Network Graphics (PNG). The company claims that "this is an achievement not yet matched by any other browser on the market today".

This should mean that Web content developers need not rewrite Web pages for the different versions of Internet Explorer for Windows and Macintosh - a page written for the Mac will render the Web page at least as well as Internet Explorer for Windows.

Perfectionists The Microsoft product manager is optimistic about the new browser: "We are as excited as the Mac community to release IE5 as soon as possible, but we won’t until it’s perfect. We hope the quality and performance of the product will surpass the expectations of people who use Macs."

IE5 promises tighter integration with Apple's QuickTime streaming-media technologies, via its Media Toolbar. It features built-in support for Apple QuickTime, as well as MP3 technology via the SoundJam engine.

Users need only click on the command to bring up the Media Toolbar underneath the Favorites Toolbar. They can, then, for example, make selections from a pre-populated list of radio stations or add their own audio or video selections. To select their own station, users simply visit the desired Web site once; the media address is then stored in the Media Toolbar - see screenshot, here.

Microsoft claims that the browser "incorporates cutting-edge streaming technology to play leading formats directly within the browser pane". No special plug-ins or configurations are needed; users just click on the desired address, and "Internet Explorer does the rest". The feature is designed so that users can tune in a stream without worrying about its format and hear or see the media of their choice in a video window, "as easily as turning on a radio".

Office In regards to the next version of Microsoft's Office business suite, Kwong told Macworld that "we have been working hard on
Office9 Macintosh Edition (code name) since the release of Office 98 in March 1998".

The Office business collection includes Microsoft best-sellers, such as Word, Excel (spreadsheet) and PowerPoint (presentations). When he succeeded former CEO Gil Amelio in 1997, the first thing that Apple boss Steve Jobs did was persuade Microsoft to update its Office applications for the Mac - as well as invest $150 million in Apple. For the Mac to be without Microsoft Office would be a complete disaster, such is the market-share lead enjoyed by these major programs.