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Microsoft Corp. made available to beta testers on Wednesday two slightly different test versions of Internet Explorer 7.0, the next version of the company’s Web browser.

Microsoft included IE 7.0 bits in the Beta 1 build of Windows Vista that the company began distributing, via download, to beta testers on Wednesday. It also released a separate beta of IE 7.0 that currently will run on Windows XP Service Pack (SP) 2 machines only. (Ultimately that stand-alone beta will run on Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP Professional x64 systems, too.)

Microsoft made the stand-alone IE 7.0 Beta 1 version available only to the same set of testers that are part of the Vista beta program.

“We are using the same distribution channels [for IE 7.0 Beta 1] as Vista is,” said Gary Schare, a director of product management with Microsoft’s Windows client unit.

Those include Microsoft Developer Network, TechNet and Microsoft Connect for the preselected individuals who are part of the Vista beta program.

Both beta versions of IE 7.0 contain almost the identical core set of features and functionality.

Read the full story on Microsoft Watch: Microsoft Delivers Pair of Internet Explorer Betas