Microsoft quickens browser pace with IE10

Just over a year after it debuted the first preview for the just-shipped Internet Explorer 9 (IE9), Microsoft Corp. on Tuesday kicked off its next browser, IE10.

The first look at IE10, however, runs only on Windows 7.

In a keynote at Microsoft’s annual MIX Web developers conference, Dean Hachamovitch, the executive who leads the IE group, demonstrated the first Platform Preview of IE10.

Microsoft also made the preview available for download Tuesday.

The quick shift to IE10 — Hachamovitch said that engineers started work on the new browser three weeks ago, just a week after the launch of IE9 — didn’t surprise Al Hilwa, an analyst with IDC Corp.

“They don’t want to be in the three- or even two-year cycle,” said Hilwa, referring to the 29 months between IE7 and IE8, and the 24 months between IE8 and IE9. “They got the memo on that. It doesn’t work for browsers, or for any piece of software for that matter.”

Hilwa said the message he heard at MIX was that Microsoft was stepping up the release cadence of IE, and to expect IE10 much sooner than past browsers. “We’ll see [IE10] around the one-year mark from now, plus or minus a few months,” he said.

That would put the release of IE10 in the spring of 2012, perhaps as early as April.

“They’re shooting for at least annual releases,” Hilwa said.

The change would be major for Microsoft, and put it in closer competition with the faster pace of Google’s Chrome, and most recently, Mozilla’s Firefox. Google issues a new version of Chrome every six-to-eight weeks, while the Mozilla is shifting its Firefox browser to an eight-to-12 week schedule .

Firefox 5, for example, is scheduled to ship in late June, while Chrome 11, the next in the “stable” line of Google ‘s browsers , should appear before the end of the month.

Not that Hachamovitch saw the need to match his rivals. Although he did not name names during his MIX11 keynote, Hachamovitch aimed a salvo at the rapid release schedules of Chrome and Mozilla.

“What’s important is progress over time,” Hachamovitch said. “Cadence is just releases per time, how often the updates shift. Increased cadence just means bigger version numbers and more frequent updates of incomplete software. The key factor is how substantial each release is, how much progress each release makes.”

Hilwa said Hachamovitch had a point. “To some extent it’s true that [multiple releases don’t] always mean there’s a lot of progress,” Hilwa said.

Even though IE won’t match Chrome’s or Firefox’s release rhythm, Microsoft ‘s faster tempo is an attempt to serve conflicting masters: Consumers who want frequent upgrades to keep them competitive and enterprises that resist change.

Because IE has the bulk of the corporate market, Hilwa said, he expects that companies may skip an upgrade to stick with a more manageable two-year-cycle. By quickening the release pace, Microsoft hopes to retain more consumers and give businesses the option of taking an annual refresh, or as they often do with Office, delaying until the next edition comes along.

User may have to make up their minds sooner than later if Microsoft is on an annual schedule. IE9 made its first public beta in September 2010, six months after the debut Platform Preview. If IE10’s on that same track, people can figure on beta by October.

Hilwa likes Microsoft’s approach — put a succession of previews in developers’ hands — but not tie itself to a feature set until a beta is ready. “They don’t want to be experimental in the production version,” Hilwa said, “because once you put something in, then everyone assumes it’s going to be in the production code.”

Hachamovitch said Microsoft would issue a new Platform Preview every eight-to-12 weeks.

IE10 Platform Preview is essentially a browser engine with a minimalist wrapper, and lacks common navigation tools such as an address bar or a Back button. It can be run side-by-side with IE9, Hachamovitch said.

IE10’s first preview can be downloaded from Microsoft’s Test Drive site. Unlike IE9, whether the final version or its previews, the IE10 early look runs only on Windows 7 .

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