Microsoft releases Beta 2 of IE7, as Gates apologizes for long wait

Las Vegas (NV) - As Microsoft launched what it hopes to be an annual conference devoted to the topic of Web-driven applications and services - using Microsoft technologies, of course - Chairman Bill Gates took advantage of the opportunity to announce the immediate availability of Beta 2 of Internet Explorer 7.0, for immediate download from the corporate Web site.

In a brief demonstration of IE 7 Beta 2 at the inaugural Mix '06 conference, program manager Dean Hachamovitch showed the packed audience at the relatively small auditorium some of the latest build's newly working features, including an auto-detection feature for sites that utilize local search capacity. In a similar vein to sites that the RSS feeds that accompany their Web pages be auto-detected by the latest IE or Firefox, sites that have their own local search can add listings for themselves to IE7's new search bar. This way, a site that specializes in recipes or horticulture or, as Hachamovitch demonstrated, dog grooming, can make their search query lines accessible through IE7's built-in controls.

In addition to its continued inclusion of tabs - which, Firefox has made clear, is a "must have" function even among regular IE users - IE7 will enable tabs to be grouped and saved, like a collective bookmark. A tab grouping can then be used in place of the IE7 home page, so conceivably, a browser could load TG Daily, Tom's Hardware Guide, and MobilityGuru all at startup.

While visibly struggling on stage more than he generally does, Gates continued the ongoing theme of a "kinder, gentler Microsoft," acknowledging users' concerns about Internet Explorer falling by the wayside with the demise of former competitor Netscape. For today's development itinerary, he promised, "IE7 is not the end of the line. In a sense, we're doing a mea culpa, and saying hey, we waited too long for a browser release." In the future, he added, Microsoft will be cycling its browser releases far more often than it does with Windows operating system or application components, and hinted that IE8 and IE9 have already begun development. "We're already working on the next two releases," he stated, "and so you can expect to see us moving very, very rapidly there, because we see great opportunities."

The three areas of improvement that users should see with this beta, Gates explained, are in three categories: First, the amount of screen space consumed by the user interface has been reduced, leaving more open space for the Web page. (Clutter reduction has also been a stated goal of the Office 2007 development team, with mixed results along the way.) Second, IE7 will be a more highly secured browser, though in ways that should enable users, Gates said, not to have to think about security so much. To that end, he pointed out several features which highlight the company's current watch-word "reputation," which will refer to a new relative measure of trustworthiness that Microsoft will amend to Web site certificates. IE7 will trumpet the reputation of Web sites the user visits, especially commercial sites.

Third, Gates said, there will be improved adherence to standards, and here he started to get a little fuzzy. Clearly, with his background slide failing to change and his TelePrompTer stationed quite some distance away, Gates' train of thought would occasionally escape him, more often today than usual. So it was here that he promised improved support for not only such features as CSS and "native XML," but also something called "HTTP" which should be equally important.

There are two reasons why users will want to adopt IE7 very least, there were two reasons, when Bill Gates started speaking on that topic. Perhaps searching for what he originally meant to say, he stated the following two: "First, it'll be a free download when we go final for XP users, and we'll be promoting that pretty heavily; and second of all, of course, this is the browser that people get with Windows Vista. Windows Vista's due this year, making great progress on that, getting a lot of feedback, so we expect as that comes out that manufacturers will ship their new machines pretty much exclusively with Windows Vista."

Later, perhaps in trying to recapture the point he meant to bring up, Gates referred to a study that said users tend to download updates for browsers more often and more readily than almost any other form of software currently available. Since Microsoft has not been the company making those updates available, by his own admission, his mea culpa may actually have ended up more humble than even originally planned.

Following the Gates keynote, Hachamovitch reiterated the theme of the day: "I've talked to a lot of people, and I've listened to customers, to developers, to security analysts, to industry analysts, and for a lot of people, anything short of an apology, to them, just sounds defensive. So I want to be clear: We messed up."

From there, the apology took an interesting turn, however: "As committed as we are to the browser," Hachamovitch acknowledged, "we just didn't do a good job demonstrating it." He recalled all the work his team did for IE6 SP2. "What I heard from people is, 'That's good, but we want more,'" implying that perhaps users simply couldn't find all these helpful new features for themselves. However, he went on, "what I want to say to you today is, we get it. We hear you. We get it. We're committed." With continued demonstrations, he said, users will be able to discover how well the company delivers what it promises.