17 February 2005 Software giant Microsoft, in an apparent change in its previous policy, has announced that it will release a new version of its Internet browser separately from an updated version of its operating system.
Microsoft chairman Bill Gates told delegates at the RSA Security conference in San Francisco that it would make trial version of its Internet Explorer 7 (IE7) available this summer.
The move highlights the growing concern within Microsoft over the number of users that have ditched its browser in favour of others regarded as more secure and with better features. Microsoft has seen its market share eroded over the last 12 months, dropping to below 90%.
Open source software development group The Mozilla Foundation’s Firefox browser, perceived as more secure than IE, recently achieved the milestone of 25 million downloads just four months after its release.
By releasing a standalone browser Microsoft is back pedalling from claims made during its bitter antitrust battle with the US Department of Justice.
At the time Microsoft insisted that the browser was so intrinsic to the operating system that selling the two products separately was impractical. Immediately Microsoft’s IE programme manager Brian Countryman announced that standalone versions of Internet Explorer would be discontinued.
“As part of the OS (operating system), IE will continue to evolve, but there will be no future standalone installations,” he said.
This week’s announcement suggests that Microsoft is sufficiently concerned about losing market share to review its stance. The uncertainties over when the next version of Windows, dubbed Longhorn, have forced its hand.
Gates said that IE 7 will include improved measures to defend users against spyware programs that clog up hard disk space, and threaten consumer’s privacy.
Microsoft has not detailed when the full version of IE7 will be released, although it has said the beta version will only be available for customers running Windows XP with service pack two.