For a moment there, it looked like the tyrant IE could actually be overthrown. Those were heady days, weren't they? Well, they're over now. Papa Bill just dropped the hammer. Bill Gates announced this week, at the RSA Security Conference in San Francisco (of all places), that Microsoft will release an updated version of IE, Internet Explorer 7, without waiting for the next version of Windows. Gates says the unexpected release is designed to address the perception that IE itself is a massive security risk. What he didn't say, but you know he was thinking it, is that IE 7 will easily put a stop to this upstart browser rebellion.
If IE 7 is even 50 percent more secure than current versions, the Firefox rebellion is finished. If IE 7 has tabs, Firefox will be destroyed as surely as the Hungarian uprising of 1956 was crushed by the Soviets. I use the analogy deliberately, too--no one expected Microsoft to issue a major update to IE before Longhorn came out, but those months of silence (and, no doubt, frantic development) look awfully ominous now.
The party's over.
Editor's Note: This version has been edited to clarify that Internet Explorer 7 is not a true standalone browser release.
RSA 2005 Information security concerns have prompted Microsoft to release a new version of Internet Explorer before the next version of Windows ships. Contrary to previous plans, Microsoft will release IE7 as a beta in "early summer" 2005. Longhorn, the next iteration of Windows, isdue late next year.
IE 7 facts
From a factual basis, here's what we know about IE 7 right now:
IE 7 was originally scheduled for Longhorn. The new features we're going to see in IE 7 were originally going to be available only as part of Longhorn.
IE 7 will be focused on security. Like the version of IE that Microsoft shipped in XP SP2, IE 7.0 will consist, mostly, of security-oriented features. One of these features will be an anti-phishing technology. As Gates noted, "Some of the advances [in IE 7] include things focused on phishing, where people use URLs that appear to come from another location, things related to malware. So, [that] will be another important advance [in IE 7]." IE 7 will also include an IP traffic encryption capability that will help prevent electronic eavesdroppers from modifying data before it reaches your machine or redirecting you silently to malicious servers. "It makes sure that the traffic is encrypted, so there is no eavesdropping or modification that can take place, but it also makes absolutely sure through the use of certificates that the machine that you're connected to is the machine that you want to be able to connect to," Gates noted. Microsoft is also overhauling the IE security zones in IE 7.
NEW! IE 7 will include tabbed browsing. Microsoft will include tabbed browsing, along with other new features, in IE 7.
NEW! IE 7 will not include a new Outlook Express version. A few people have asked me whether IE 7 will include a new Outlook Express (OE) version (e.g. OE 7). No, it will not: The OE team is focusing on Longhorn.
IE 7 will be free. Like previous versions of IE, IE 7 will be free.
-Paul ThurrottIE 7 speculation
In addition to these facts, I'd like to present a few speculative thoughts about IE 7. These are not facts, but are probable based on my prior conversations with folks at Microsoft:
IE 7 will probably ship for XP SP2 customers only. Microsoft is already backing off a bit from its original claim that IE 7 would be marketed as another benefit of using XP SP2. That means that the company could theoretically back-port IE 7 to Windows 2000, too, assuming that enough customers complain. However, it's likely that IE 7 will remain XP SP2-only, if only because a Windows 2000 version of IE 7 would be inherently less secure.
IE 7 will likely ship this calendar year. You can expect IE 7 to enter beta in May or June and ship by the end of 2005. There will be at least two beta releases, according to the IE Team blog.
The version of IE in Longhorn will be quite different from standalone IE. Don't be fooled into believing that XP SP2 users are going to get Longhorn's version of IE this year. The version of IE in Longhorn will include advanced graphical capabilities, unique new features, and will benefit from the underlying search functionality in Longhorn (the omission of WinFS won't change that). Longhorn IE will be much safer than XP SP2 + IE 7 because of low-level changes to the attack surface in that OS.