Today Microsoft, in fact Bill Gates himself, has officially announced Explorer 7, the fabled successor to Explorer 6 that everybody seems to have been talking about since 2002. Before jumping in the air from joy, let's see what Microsoft says and what it doesn't say.
A year and a half ago I postulated, in an article that should have been edited savagely, that Explorer 6's code engine (Trident) cannot be updated any more and that Microsoft therefore has to write a new browser from scratch, like Netscape had to do after Netscape 4's painful debilitation became clear for all to see.
This predicted rewrite hasn't happened (yet), and unfortunately the current announcements don't prove anything about my theory. Personally I'm curious if I was wrong or right, but it seems I'll have to have more patience.
Let's go to Gates's announcement. Here's the clue:
Building on those advancements, Gates announced Internet Explorer 7.0, designed to add new levels of security to Windows XP SP2 while maintaining the level of extensibility and compatibility that customers have come to expect. Internet Explorer 7.0 will also provide even stronger defenses against phishing, malicious software and spyware. The beta release is scheduled to be available this summer.
This announcement is embedded in a press release that emphasizes Microsoft's dedication to more security after the many holes found in its browsing software during the past year. Therefore this release should be seen only in the light of security concerns, and not of standards compatibility. Good enough, no one will object to enhanced security.
For a truly renewed Explorer we'll probably have to wait until Longhorn (or however it's called nowadays) becomes operational. My theory remains that a new Explorer needs a new code engine, and it makes sense for Microsoft to build this new code engine on the new platform.
Nonetheless there is some hope. The very founding of the IE Blog, and the (for Microsoft) unprecedented degree of clarity and detail about the issues the browser team has to deal with, proves Microsoft's commitment to being clearer and more open. We can hope that the wishes and desires of web developers will be taken into account in the next real Explorer version.
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