On the feature side, Microsoft is playing
catch-up in many areas. It has added support for Web
standards, RSS Web feeds and tabbed browsing. The new
browser also offers protection against phishing
sites--malicious Web sites designed to trick users into
handing over their personal information.
After months of ceding market share to Firefox, Microsoft
has gained back a bit, according to the most recent
statistics from OneStat. IE now has 85.9 percent of the
market, an increase of 2.8 percentage points since July.
Firefox has 11.5 percent of the market, down 1.4 percentage
points compared with July. The Mozilla Foundation is getting
closer to the launch of its own revamp, Firefox 2, which has
hit the "release candidate" stage.
Chris Beard, vice president of products for Mozilla, said
that Mozilla expects to release the final version 2 of
Firefox late this month or early next month. As for IE 7, he
said that his organization sees a lot in IE 7 that other
modern browsers have had for a while. "We're continuing on
our path of how can we continue to improve upon the
experience," Beard said.
Microsoft is encouraging even Firefox users to install the
IE update, promising them that it won't make IE the default
browser--or even ask them if they want to switch. "There are
advantages to having it there, even if you are not a daily
user," said Gary Schare, Microsoft's director of IE product
Earlier, on Wednesday, Yahoo made available its own custom
version of IE 7, which sports Yahoo as the default search
engine, Yahoo home pages and a Yahoo toolbar.
Those who have been beta testing IE7 will begin receiving
the final version via automatic updates this week. Microsoft
plans to push down IE7 via automatic update to IE6 users
starting next month, though they will get to decide whether
they want to install it.
Microsoft has also offered a tool for businesses that lets
them indefinitely block users from getting automatically
updated to IE7. Schare declined to say how many businesses
have downloaded the tool.
Although Microsoft will begin making the browser available
through Automatic Update next month, it could take many more
weeks to get the application to all PCs in the United
States. The software maker is staggering the release, in
part to make sure it can handle the support calls. It will
make free phone support available, as it has done since the
Beta 2 version of IE 7 was introduced in April.
The software maker has primarily been touting the security
enhancements that come as part of the new browser. However,
Schare said anecdotally, the most popular feature among beta
testers has been improved printing of Web pages.
Schare said Microsoft started focusing on trying to make the
browser more secure when it updated IE as part of Windows XP
Service Pack 2.
"That certainly helped a lot--clearly not enough," Schare
said. "We're not done. We've already started thinking about
the next one."
Schare said the company is in the planning stages for
another update, which is likely some 18 months out. Among
the features Microsoft will consider adding are things that
it wanted to include this time around, but opted against.
Among the features in that camp are a download manager and
improved searching within the current Web page.
It will also likely need more security improvements, though
it is hard to say at this point what those changes will need
to be. With SP2, the focus was on malicious software, while
IE 7 is largely focused on social threats.
"We don't yet know what the next one is," Schare said.
It remains to be seen whether that update will come as part
of an update to Windows Vista or on its own. "It may line
up," Schare said. "It may not. We're willing to have it not
Rivals are not standing still either. The new version of
Mozilla adds, among other things, its own anti-phishing
abilities, which were co-developed with Google. Beard said
Firefox is looking to improve further its lead on patching
holes. Already, he said, Mozilla's patches are released in
"days, not weeks or months," Beard said. "With (version)
two, we're looking to make that hours or minutes.".