Microsoft late Wednesday released the much-anticipated final version of Internet Explorer 7, the first major update to the market-leading Web browser in five years. The company has high hopes for the release, which arrives amid growing competition from Firefox.
Microsoft plans to deliver IE7 to all Windows users via Automatic Updates beginning in November. IE product manager Gary Schare told BetaNews last week that the rollout would be staggered and start in about 3 weeks.
Windows users will see a dialog box asking them to choose whether or not to upgrade. Users can also uninstall IE7 and revert back to IE6 if they so desire. Schare said that IE7 is "friendly," noting that it won't take over as the default browser, and it will migrate current search settings, so Windows Live Search will not necessarily be the default search provider.
Enterprise customers will have until November 1 to block IE7 if they don't want their employees to see the available update. Because the new release introduces major changes to the browser, Microsoft acknowledges that some businesses may encounter problems and, thus, will not force an upgrade.
First announced over 20 months ago by Bill Gates, IE7 was built with security in mind. IE6 has largely proven to be Microsoft's Achilles' heel when it comes to security, as it was developed before the onslaught of online attacks that now delude consumers as they surf the Web.
In turn, IE7 includes a number of new features such as a built-in Phishing Filter and ActiveX controls that require manual activation to keep users protected. Under the hood, Microsoft has rewritten the networking architecture of the browser to stop URL spoofing attacks.
Microsoft has additionally built a new RSS feed platform directly into IE7. Not only will users be able to stay up to date by subscribing to Web sites, but application developers can also hook into the platform and easily make use of RSS APIs.
On the outside, IE7 has joined the 21st century with tabbed browsing and a customizable search box. Rivals Firefox and Opera have long offered such functionality, as have IE-based browsers including the popular Maxthon. The toolbar has also been compressed to give more space to Web sites.
Despite all the changes, Microsoft has made a concerted effort to ensure IE7 is compatible with the latest Web standards while leaving in "quirks mode" for older sites. This means users should come across few problems when browsing even those sites that were designed for legacy versions of IE. The company has worked closely with banks and e-commerce sites to make sure IE7 is fully supported.
In a blog posting, IE general manager Dean Hachamovitch thanked the beta testers that took part in the development of IE7. Five betas and a release candidate were made available to millions of users worldwide.
"With each release, your feedback helped us make IE7 better. Your contributions, ideas, and direct comments were crucial in helping us prioritize and focus our work," he said. "I can’t imagine delivering this product without the tremendous cooperation we enjoyed from so many of you as well as developers and partners."
In 2-3 weeks, Arabic, Finnish, French, German, Japanese, and Spanish language versions of IE7 will arrive. The remaining 17 languages will become available between November and January, Microsoft said.
To show how committed it is to the new release, Microsoft is offering free phone support to IE7 users for the next year. Users can call (866) 234-6020 regarding download or installations issues and receive assistance at no charge seven days a week.
Nonetheless, Microsoft's Hachamovitch says the IE team is not done yet. "Even as we put the finishing touches on Windows Vista and release all the remaining language versions of IE7, we have already started work on the next versions of Internet Explorer."
BetaNews would like to hear your thoughts on the new release, and ideas for features you would like to see in the next release of Internet Explorer so that we can pass them onto Microsoft. Post your comments below.