IE 7.0 Plan Remains Mostly Dark

SEATTLE -- Microsoft held a session at the Windows Hardware Engineering conference Wednesday on "Internet Explorer today and tomorrow," although the working title could have as easily been "Internet Explorer eight months ago."

Despite being peppered with questions by attendees hoping to learn something about Microsoft's forthcoming Internet Explorer 7.0 browser, product managers declined to offer anything other than very minor details about the upcoming browser for Windows XP SP2 users, let alone the version to come in the Windows Longhorn release.

Internet Explorer product managers Margaret Cobb and Dave Massey clarified that the IE 7.0 beta will come in mid-summer as opposed to earlier projections of early summer and will be a technical beta available only to MSDN subscribers. They also reiterated some technical changes first noted on the IE blog last week -- that IE 7.0 will include support for the alpha channel in PNG images and that an effort will be made to address Cascading Style Sheet consistency problems. At the same time, Massey deflected a question about whether IE 7.0 would feature tabbed browsing.

"We'll discuss it as we get closer to beta. We don't see a lot of point in discussing it (now)," he said.

Cobb spent most of the session discussing and demonstrating anti-spoofing, download blocking, Group Policy and other security enhancements to Internet Explorer 6.0 that came in Windows XP Service Pack 2 last August.

Microsoft first committed to delivering a version of the browser separate from the next operating system release at the RSA Conference in February. At the time, Microsoft chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates said IE 7.0 would focus on security and enter beta testing in early summer. He did not discuss any end-user features.

The timing and scarcity of detail of Gates' announcement struck some critics as a freeze-the-market maneuver to blunt the momentum of the open-source Firefox browser, which recently pushed Internet Explorer below 90 percent market share for the first time in several years in the independent surveys of two different firms. Others observers contended the focus on security, rather than other popular Firefox features, such as tabbed browsing, indicated that Microsoft was simply acknowledging the need to address ongoing security concerns even after its Windows XP SP2 lockdown. Microsoft officials said the IE 7.0 team was already at work developing the browser when Gates announced it.

During her session Wednesday, Cobb attacked the security of the open source Firefox browser, buttressing her argument with the claim that Firefox had to patch 33 security vulnerabilities in the last 60 days compared to 17 for Internet Explorer since August. She said the figures came from security researchers at Secunia. The Secunia site also states that Firefox has four unpatched vulnerabilities with a maximum severity of "less critical," while it lists 19 unpatched vulnerabilities for IE with a maximum severity of "highly critical."

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.


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