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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