Microsoft has released a beta version of Internet Explorer 6, the next iteration of its Web browser, to a group of testers, developers, and partners.

Version 6 will, according to a report at Paul Thorrott's WinInfo, (http://www.wininformant.com) add new Explorer bars.

One gives users easy access to digital media, including video, music, and still images; and one accesses MSN Instant Messenger. Version 5.5's Explorer bar offers search, history, and favourites.

The media Explorer bar will integrate the browser with Windows Media Player, much as MSN Explorer has done.

MSN Explorer, released earlier this autumn, is an easy-to-use Internet client for consumers that integrates many Microsoft properties, including search features, eShop, Hotmail, MSN Web Communities, and Money Central.

Explorer 6 is likely to be integrated into Whistler, the next version of Windows, which is expected to ship next year.