More than five years after Google launched its Chrome developer channel, offering web developers early access to upcoming Chrome features, Microsoft has finally decided to release a similar offering for Internet Explorer (IE).

Microsoft today launched the Internet Explorer developer channel, a “fully-functioning” web browser that offers developers and early adopters a preview of new IE features before they launch in the mainstream IE release. The dev channel runs independently of Internet Explorer 11, the latest version of IE for Windows 8.1 and Windows 7, although you’ll need IE 11 on one of those two operating systems to run the IE dev channel.

Unlike past IE betas, the IE dev channel isn’t tied to a specific release. Instead, Microsoft says it’ll continuously support and update the browser ahead of official IE releases, much like Google, Mozilla, and Opera do with the dev channels for their browsers. Microsoft didn’t clarify how often it’ll update the IE dev channel, but competing browsers get a dev channel update once every six weeks or so.

The first developer channel release adds support for WebDriver, which helps developers automate site testing for “complex user scenarios” like navigating through pages, filling forms, and clicking links. It also adds support for the Gamepad API, which enables devs to add controller support to their games and apps. (The ‘Gamepad API’ facilitates support for all kinds of game controllers, not specifically the Wii U GamePad, in spite of the similar name.)

Microsoft recommends you try playing Escape from XP with an Xbox 360 controller.

Above: Microsoft recommends you try playing ‘Escape from XP’ with an Xbox 360 controller.

Image Credit: Microsoft

There are a bunch on non-engine changes too, from user interface modifications to better autocomplete, clearer visualization of memory-usage, modified debugging tools, and more.

Microsoft already announced some of these upgrades through its website. That site and this new dev channel demonstrate Microsoft’s continued efforts to open up its development process — and keep IE competitive with other modern web browsers.

Microsoft uses its Application Virtualization tech to isolate the dev channel from existing IE 11 installs, so it runs a bit slower than regular Internet Explorer, the company said. It also can’t be set as the default browser.