updated 4/25/2006 4:44:55 PM ET 2006-04-25T20:44:55

Microsoft Corp. is releasing a new test version of Internet Explorer, the market-leading Web browser that is facing competition from smaller players.

The new beta, available Tuesday for free download to English-language customers, includes fixes for problems that were causing Internet Explorer 7 to stop working, said Dean Hachamovitch, general manager in charge of Internet Explorer development.

With the previous test version, Hachamovitch said the most common problems reported involved banking and news sites, in part because of security changes.

Improving security can be tricky since any changes can cause legitimate Web sites to stop working, frustrating users.

Microsoft also added more guidance to help people using IE’s new browser tab functions, which let a user view more than one Web site from within one window, using multiple “tabs.”

The new version comes amid growing competition from browsers such as Firefox, which has long offered functions such as tabbed browsing.  Some also consider other browsers to be more secure, since IE, with its market dominance, is a popular target for attacks.

(MSNBC is a Microsoft - NBC joint venture.)

While the version released Tuesday is called IE 7 Beta 2, it is actually the third test version of Internet Explorer 7 made available to the general public. Hachamovitch said there are plans for one more before the final version of Internet Explorer 7 is released. That is expected to be in the second half of this year, around the time a version of Microsoft’s new Windows operating system is expected to be available for business users.

Microsoft is releasing the new Windows, called Vista, to consumers in early 2007.

Correction: An earlier headline incorrectly stated that the beta was called IE 7 Beta 3.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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