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Stand by your PCs, a new version of Internet Explorer, codenamed Rincon, will be issued to Windows XP SP2 users in December; an early Christmas present from uncle Bill, maybe? For those who simply can’t wait a ‘beta’ trial version should be available in the next few weeks.


Microsoft’s announcement marks a significant policy U-turn, Internet Explorer 7 was originally scheduled to be included in Longhorn, the working title for the next generation of the Windows operating system, however this is running late and isn’t expected to see the light of day much before the middle of 2006.


According to Bill Gates IE7 will add new layers of security to Windows XP and make web browsing a safer and more enjoyable experience. Other, equally plausible explanations for its early appearance are that IE6 has been plagued with security problems -- mostly now resolved it has to be said -- but more pertinently Microsoft has seen its share of the browser market eroded by the more secure and user-friendly Mozilla Firefox, now installed on over 10 percent of computers.


Precise details of what we can expect from IE7 are still sketchy but since security is high on the agenda the features it will almost certainly include better protection against ‘Phishing’ where users are led unwittingly to bogus web sites seeking to extract details of bank accounts and credit cards. We can also look forward to improved defences against ‘malware’ and closer integration with Microsoft’s AntiSpyware program. Malware continues to be a huge problem for IE users and these nasty little infections, which can attach themselves to a browser simply by visiting a web site, are responsible for home page ‘hijacking’, pop-up ads, unwanted toolbars and monitoring PC users web surfing activities.


There are also strong hints that IE7 will include extra encryption and Digital Right Management (DRM) to provide web site owners with more control over the information and images contained within documents. A built-in news ‘Aggregator’, already available in Firefox, is something else we can expect to see. This lets users subscribe to a range of web sites (including The Daily Telegraph), with an RSS feed (Really Simple Syndication), providing news stories and updates that are streamed directly to the subscriber’s browser, without them having to visit the web site.


Improved support for a wider range of technical standards is another long awaited feature slated for IE7. Hopefully this will solve an on-going problem for web page designers, forced to comply with Internet Explorer’s limited capabilities, or develop separate web pages for different types of browser.  


Sneak previews of IE7 suggest that the browser window won’t look significantly different to its predecessor but Microsoft appears to have borrowed yet another feature from Firefox and several other third-party browsers. A Search box has been included in the top right corner of the screen. In Firefox this is linked by default to Google but other search engines can be used instead. No prizes for guessing that IE7 will tie in with MSN Search; whether or not this can be changed remains to be seen.


Although it hasn’t been officially confirmed Microsoft insiders have indicated that IE7 will have ‘tabbed’ windows, and not before time. It has been a standard on rival browsers for several years, allowing users to display and switch between several different web sites, rather than having to open multiple browser windows.


Some important questions remain unanswered though, and it is not yet clear if IE7 will work with Windows 2000, the operating system of choice for corporate users, who naturally enough welcome the improved security features. It would be very surprising if Microsoft ignored this hugely important market but software for pre XP versions of Windows is no longer being developed and it is extremely unlikely that IE7 will be available for use with Windows 98, SE and ME.


Internet Explorer has been looking old and tired for a while but most people continue to use it simply because it is included as part of the Windows operating system. At this early stage IE7 appears to be little more than a catch-up exercise since it lacks any significant new features. The renewed emphasis on security may be enough to placate critics and possibly even slow down the migration to alternative browsers, at least until the small but determined army of hackers get to work on it…




Ó R. Maybury 2005 1606



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