IE10, a faster, modern edition of Microsoft's long-running browser, debuted last fall with Windows 8. It did not make its way to Windows 7 users, however, until four months later. The first public taste of IE11 arrived with Windows 8.1 last month, when Microsoft released the OS update as a public preview. At the time, the company said IE11 would be coming to Win7 users, as well.
The company has not indicated when the final version of IE11 for Windows 7 will be released, but given the quick turnaround with the preview edition, Win7 users might not have to wait as long this time around.
The developer preview works for Windows Server 2008 R2 as well.
[ Get the main takeaways from Microsoft's disappointing earnings report. See Microsoft's Struggles Grow: 9 Key Points. ]
That said, the Windows 7 version of IE11 won't include all the features of the Windows 8.1 variant. The Win8.1 version will be able to run HTML5 videos, such as those in Netflix, without a plug-in, for instance, but the Windows 7 edition will not.
Additionally, the Win7 version will keep the URL bar at the top of the browser, whereas in Windows 8, the bar is at the bottom. The Windows 8 version also supports Google's SPDY protocol and can concurrently open up to 100 tabs. The Windows 7 edition lacks both of these features.
IE versions 8, 9 and 10 are the three most ubiquitous browsers, according to Web-tracking firm Net Applications. Despite this firm foundation, IE11 adoption is important to Microsoft for a number of reasons. IE versions languished for years, mired in proprietary technology, security vulnerabilities and inconsistent performance. As a result, competing browsers -- and their pathways to search engines, ad sales and social media -- gained prominence. Microsoft has spent the last few years modernizing IE and closing gaps. With major changes occurring in the PC industry, Microsoft wants to maintain its momentum.
With IE11, that momentum clearly involves tablets and Windows 8.1; the better the OS's Web-surfing experience, the more attractive the forthcoming Windows 8.1 mini-tablets become as cheap, consumption-oriented devices. But Microsoft's progress will involve Windows 7 users too.
Windows 7 is the world's top OS, and Windows XP, the runner-up, is still powering nearly 40% of all PCs. Windows XP will lose support in less than a year, and many none-too-pleased customers have been slow to upgrade. When they have upgraded, it's often been to Windows 7, not Windows 8.
Microsoft will not release IE11 for Windows 8, only for Windows 8.1. The company is assuming, in other words, that all Win8 users will upgrade. This will give IE11 a built-in boost, but Windows 7 still has more users. To reach the widest audience, IE11 for Windows 7 is important, as well.
The IE11 experience is reliant on not only Microsoft but also Web developers. In an effort to ensure that sites work well with IE11, Microsoft is redesigning its modern.ie site for developers. The company also announced a limited 25% discount for Parallels Desktop 8, the virtualization software for running Windows on a Mac. Microsoft additionally offered developers two new virtual machines for site testing, as well as free access to BrowserStack, a tool that compares how long JPG images take to render in various browsers.