the future of Internet Explorer
During the early 2000s, Microsoft argued that IE was not a (stand-alone) browser but was "a set of browsing technologies" embedded in Windows. This policy formed the core of its lengthy legal battle in the U.S. with AOL/Netscape under anti-competition laws.
However, in a change of policy, IE7 was released for Windows XP SP2 in October 2006 and for Vista in January 2007. Microsoft is now using the word "browser" once more when referring to IE.
There are three significant factors relating to Microsoft's policy:-
- The initial IE7 announcement referred only to security improvements. Since then, Microsoft decided to make additional improvements to include some of the modern facilities and features available in other browsers; to improve support for current Web standards; and to fix many long-standing bugs. This process has been continued in IE8. My assessment is that these improvements, whilst very substantial, still leave IE7 and IE8 well behind such browsers as Opera and Firefox. Despite implementing several of the features introduced by these browsers, IE7 was still in catch-up mode when it was released and hasn't been updated for over two years since.
- Some features available to Windows Vista users of IE7 are not available to Windows XP users of IE7.
- IE7 and IE8 are not available to users of other Windows versions, including XP (original), XP SP1 or 98. These account for a significant minority of all Windows users.
The practical effects are as follows:-
- IE6, released in August 2001, is over 7 years old; is insecure; and has fallen well behind other browsers. Upgrading to IE7/8 is possible only for Windows Vista and XP SP2/SP3 users.
- Users of earlier Windows versions (including earlier XP versions) are frozen at IE6 (or IE5.5 or IE5). This may pose a problem for those who don't want to upgrade Windows, perhaps because their PC isn't powerful enough to run it or because they don't want to buy a new PC.
- Users have less flexibility in upgrading Windows and IE respectively. When Microsoft releases new features and functions in IE, they are available only if Windows is upgraded as well (and vice versa). For example, the major security fixes to IE6 contained in Windows XP SP2 are not available to users of IE6 under other Windows versions.
- IE will continue to be the default browser on all PCs shipped. It is often the only browser pre-installed and cannot be uninstalled.
IE8 is was released in March 2009. It is be available for XP SP2/SP3 and for Windows Vista but not for earlier Windows versions.
There is no technical reason why a browser should be part of the operating system (such as Windows). Microsoft would argue the benefits to the user of close integration, in terms of powerful and sophisticated features. The opposing argument is that users benefit from software packages which are not monolithic but which nevertheless co-operate with each other. Users can mix-and-match the packages which they believe best meet their needs and preferences.
Note for Mac users: In another low-key statement, in June 2003, Microsoft indicated that it was withdrawing from all further development of IE for the Mac (apart from critical bug fixes and security fixes). The current version is IE5. When it was released in 2000, IE5 Mac was widely regarded as a very good browser but inevitably it now lags well behind its competitors. Alternatives include Apple's Safari browser, Opera and Firefox.