It has been three and a half years since the launch of Internet Explorer 6 which is why news that Microsoft will be shipping IE7 a year ahead of schedule will come as a relief to many.
The details emerged yesterday in a keynote speech by head honcho Bill Gates at the RSA Conference in San Francisco. It seems, rather unsurprisingly, that security concerns are behind the re-routing of its software roadmap and users can expect publicly available beta versions of IE7 as early as this summer.
The company had more recently released a version of IE6 to coincide with the much needed but nevertheless security bloated Service Pack 2 download for Windows XP last year, but its seems that concerns over virus threats and spyware attacks have made the software monolith uneasy about holding IE7 up until the release of its next operating system, codenamed Longhorn, sometime in 2006.
To further emphasise Microsoft’s commitment to shoring up its products, Gates continually referred to security as the company’s “top priority” during his RSA speech and said $2bn of its allocated research and development budget of $6bn would be spent on this area.
Gates would not be drawn on whether IE7’s premature release had anything to do with the huge success of rival browser Firefox (developed by Mozilla and founded on the ashes of Netscape). Firefox is generally accepted as having better security and faster performance than IE and Mozilla recently posted news on its site proclaiming it has had 25 million downloads during the product's first 100 days.
Looking at the big picture, it is apparent that public concern over security is growing, after all it is only in the last few years that online shopping and banking have gained widespread trust. Six million users have already downloaded copies of Microsoft’s little known AntiSpyware product since its beta release in January, do we need anymore proof than this? A major reassurance job is required by the looks of things, and it would appear this announcement is stage one.