IE8 slips into 2009 - good or bad news?

Posted by Wolfgang Gruener

Redmond (WA) – The general manager for Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, Dean Hachamovitch, revealed in a surprise blog post that Microsoft will not release the final version of Internet Explorer during the remaining six weeks of the year. Instead the company now plans on providing a release candidate, which will close the beta period and behave like the final product, Hachamovitch executive said. The reason? To look at all the feedback that has been provided so far. But there may be an unknown variable as well. 

Microsoft’s Internet Explorer is increasingly under pressure from rivals such as Firefox and Safari, which are consistently gaining ground on the dominant browser on the Internet. In a time where IE market share seems to breaking away every week, we learn that IE8 will not, as widely anticipated, launch in 2008, but in Q1 2009 at the earliest.

Hachamovitch’s post does not provide a clear idea why the browser may have been delayed, but he noted that Microsoft was not able to deliver IE8 without the information that was provided by “over 20 million IE sessions and hundreds of hours of usability lab sessions”,  “thousands of threads from user forums” and “hundreds of hours listening and answering questions in meetings with partners and other important organizations.”

Following feedback the company received during the IE7 release, Hachamovitch said he wanted to be clear about the plan for IE8 and wrote:

“We will release one more public update of IE8 in the first quarter of 2009, and then follow that up with the final release. Our next public release of IE (typically called a “release candidate”) indicates the end of the beta period. We want the technical community of people and organizations interested in web browsers to take this update as a strong signal that IE8 is effectively complete and done. They should expect the final product to behave as this update does.”

Microsoft will still take note of critical issues (“issues impacting robustness, security, backwards compatibility, or completeness with respect to planned standards work”), but it appears that IE8 RC1 will be feature complete and represent the software users can expect in the final release. The feedback to Microsoft will also determine the final release date of IE8.  
     

TG Daily’s take

Whether the apparent delay is a good or bad decision remains to be seen, but we believe that Microsoft in fact has a good reason for taking another look at its next-gen browser.

Since the release of the first IE8 beta, the browser market has taken a dramatic turn and somewhat outmaneuvered Microsoft’s strategy. While Microsoft promised to be more standard-compliant than ever before, the browser has not reflected that promise in the Acid3 test so far. Also, Microsoft decided to add two more proprietary features, web slices and activities, which very few may have really use for.

In the meantime, a browser speed race - that quite apparently caught Microsoft on the wrong foot - has developed between Google Chrome, Apple’s Safari and Firefox. While Chrome and Safari are insignificant to the browser market as a whole at this time (according to Net Applications at 0.7% and 6% share, respectively), Firefox is accelerating its pace at the expense of IE.

Daily browser market share data provided by Net Applications suggests that, if nothing earth shattering happens in the remaining days of November, that Firefox will post its first 20%+ market share for this month. Daily market share estimates for Firefox range between 19.7% and 21.9% at this time – a record level for the Mozilla software.

Microsoft’s Internet Explorer is likely to see another decline in November. IE’s market share swings are much greater than those of Firefox: The posted share has been between 64% and 74% in November, according to Net Applications. Those declines can be mainly attributed to the use of Internet Explorer 6 in business environments. While the browser is still listed with a market share of up to 24% during the week, its share drops consistently over the weekend - to as low as 16%. IE8 Beta, by the way, currently hovers around 0.7% - 0.8% market share, according to Net Applications’ charts.

IE6 may pose the greatest threat to Microsoft’s browser market share dominance. When those systems enter upgrade cycles and if Mozilla or any other browser manufacturer can convince businesses to adapt their browsers, Microsoft could be facing a landslide loss and may be in danger of dropping below the 50% mark in the browser market. If we look at what really counts in business environments - security and productivity - then Microsoft is at a clear disadvantage right now. IE8 is in no position to effectively compete with Firefox at this time.  

From this perspective, Microsoft may actually have all the reasons to delay IE8 for a few weeks and take a closer look at the browser’s competitiveness.