Foley on Microsoft

What's Next for Microsoft's IE?

With IE 7 due to go live shortly, it's time to start speculating about the next versions!

Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE) 7 is due to go live any day now, and you know what that means: Time to start talking about what's next. Hey, just because Microsoft officials are banned from publicly discussing IE 7.5 and IE 8 -- or whatever the next pair of browser updates gets labeled -- doesn't mean we can't talk about them. And, based on remarks the IE team has made in various forums over the past couple of months, it's even possible to make some educated guesses as to what's in store.

Here's what we know for sure, based on comments from Microsoft execs. Contrary to what the IE team actually believes, users can expect a new release within nine months, rather than a full year. Bill Gates uncorked that surprise at the Mix '06 conference in March, catching both attending Microsoft developers and Microsoft's own IE team members seemingly off guard.

We also know that Microsoft is already building the next two versions of IE. One of the versions will include "a complete reworking of the networking stack," according to Dean Hachamovitch, general manager of the IE team. He articulates three overall goals for the next IE releases: great standards support, improved safety/security and a positive experience for end users.

That's all well and good. The real question is what could, and should, make it into the next release or two of IE?

Based on Microsoft's promises, we can assume better Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) standards compliance is coming. Microsoft already fixed/added 200 CSS-related tweaks in IE 7 to make it more CSS-compliant, but as critics have noted, that job is not done. I expect a more fully compliant browser to emerge down the road.

Beyond CSS, the IE team is considering a host of other features. We perused a couple of transcripts of recent IE Web chats where Microsoft team members solicited and got plenty of user feedback. Based on those chats, here are some features Microsoft is considering:

  • Including the ability to "lock" a page to prevent users from accidentally navigating away from a page
  • Adding a "Find on Page" capability
  • Updating the IE rendering engine and Javascript
  • Improving username/password management
  • Changing the "mini-address" bar (part of drop-down browser windows) to make it more useful
  • Lightening up .PNG images
  • Restoring the "Image Toolbar" provided in earlier IE 7 test builds
  • Changing the download mechanism, perhaps eliminating the initial download to the "temporary Internet files" folder
  • Adding easily editable config files (similar to Firefox's userChrome.css and UserContent.css)
  • Enabling draggable tabs from one IE window to another
  • Supporting themes
  • Configuring tabs so that each has its own private cookie cache
  • Introducing new status bar info, possibly with fields such as "last accessed by user" and "window last updated"
  • Enabling add-ons, such as stocks, movies, etc., a la Mozilla's Firefox

Not all of these items will emerge as new features in the next versions of IE, and other features remain unaddressed. Two that come to mind are printing support for tables that are hundreds of columns wide, and the ability to run different versions of IE simultaneously on a single machine.

One feature I want to see is automatic page recovery, which can restore Web pages that were accidentally closed (or killed during a system crash). Microsoft has deemed this capability a potential privacy issue, but I'd like the company to find a way to get this functionality into the next rev. As a longtime IE 7 beta tester, I have lost my browsing "place" more than once to a system hiccup, and typically have a heck of a time remembering where I was before.

One solution: Implement it as off by default, so those running IE 7 on a single-user, private machine can enjoy this helpful convenience.

Another feature I would welcome is "parallel browsing," something browser vendor Maxthon has pioneered. This is a bit like picture-in-picture on a TV, allowing you to view pages side-by-side in the same window, rather than switching between tabs.

It seems that after years of refusing to respond to users' requests, the IE team finally has its eyes and ears wide-open. So, what's on your IE wish list? Write to me at mjfoley@redmondmag.com.

About the Author

Mary Jo Foley is editor of the ZDNet "All About Microsoft" blog and has been covering Microsoft for about two decades. She has a new book out, Microsoft 2.0 (John Wiley & Sons, May 2008), about what's next for Microsoft in the post-Gates era.

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Reader Comments:

Sat, Feb 10, 2007 Alexei Latvia

How about to have ability to show "Favorities" on the right edge of IE window? It much more natural for right-handed people and TabletPC users.

Thu, Nov 16, 2006 Jean-Claude Canada

I have to agree with Gavin, SVG support is needed for IE. All other browsers have it and it's a major issue since we can no longer rely on Adobe.

Mon, Oct 16, 2006 Anonymous WA, USA

Avant, Firefox, Maxthon, Netscape, and Opera -all have their advantages and some small disadvatages over one another.
One thing strikes me - Why MS doesn't do what it has done so successfully in the past? ...
get a team to line up all the competitor products out there - then :
Copy the best features from the competitors - and make a new version of their own product.
It has worked in the past - I don't see why not to this time. Everybody will cry Foul - but then everybody will forget and embrace the new features as standard. So the competition will innovate and find something new and useful again.
Corporate America at its best!

Mon, Oct 16, 2006 Anonymous Anonymous

95% of the requested "new" features are already in Opera. Nobody needs a new Internet Explorer!

Mon, Oct 9, 2006 Gavin Greig Dundee, Scotland

Integrated SVG support please, especially now that Adobe are withdrawing their plug-in.

It's not the sort of feature users are clamouring for, but they would appreciate it if they got it - better quality graphics on the web. Opera has it and Firefox is adding it. Where's IE?

Thu, Oct 5, 2006 Anonymous Anonymous

"Another feature I would welcome is "parallel browsing," "

you mean, like AOL OpenRide?

"typically have a heck of a time remembering where I was before"

you are aware of browser HISTORY, right?

Wed, Oct 4, 2006 bret Anonymous

it's interesting, in this article you mentioned twice 'like firefox' I recognise another feature from Opera, has Microsoft's 'Vision Statement' as we used to call it, been changed from
"We will create.."
to
"We will copy..."
Tell me, Who Wants To Go There, Today?

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