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4/24/2006
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Microsoft Ships IE7 Beta 2, Final XP Version To Beat Vista

Microsoft has stripped the "Preview" label from Internet Explorer Beta 2 and rolled out the first version of its new browser that the company will support with regular security updates.

Microsoft on Tuesday stripped the "Preview" label from Internet Explorer Beta 2 to roll out the first version of its new browser that the company will support with regular security updates.

Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 users will also be the first to get their hands on the final IE 7 later this year; Microsoft plans to release their edition before Windows Vista, which includes its own version of IE 7, ships in November.

IE 7 Beta 2 is feature-identical to the March 20 version of IE Beta 2 Preview, said Gary Schare, director of product management for IE, but is more stable and reliable. Debug code, however, remains in Beta 2. "We'll continue to do performance tuning and bug fixes, and improve the reliability through the beta process," Schare said.

The audience for IE 7 has also been expanded.

"The Preview was primarily for developers, but Beta 2 is for who I'd call 'technology enthusiasts,'" said Schare. "If they're reading [TechWeb], they're technology enthusiasts."

Internet Explorer 7, which Microsoft has said will go final sometime during the second half of 2006, was first released to the public in late January, but it had been in the hands of a limited number of testers both in XP and Vista versions since July 2005.

"I'd recommend that users running IE at home especially give Beta 2 a try," said Schare. "Its security benefits outweigh any risks of using beta software."

IE 7 Beta 2 is the first version supported by Microsoft. Free telephone support is available immediately to North American users, and will be extended to German users May 3 and Japanese users May 8, when those localized editions are posted. (IE 7 will also be localized for Finnish and Arabic users, said Schare, and released May 3.)

The beta will also be backed by the Redmond, Wash.-based developer with any necessary security updates. Earlier versions were unsupported, and the security update picture was muddy.

Two weeks ago, Microsoft unveiled its monthly security patches, including a fix for 10 vulnerabilities in IE 6.0 and earlier editions. Within days, IE 7 Beta 2 Preview users were asking whether the updates applied to them.

"Seven of the 10 [vulnerabilities] were already fixed in IE 7 Beta 2 Preview, at least the March 20 version," said Schare, "including the 'createTextRange' bug. A couple came in [too] late for that version, but they've all been addressed in Beta 2.

"We'll support Beta 2 with security updates, either as a patch [via Windows Update] or as a new release," said Schare.

IE 7 will go through another beta round -- "Beta 3" -- added Schare, then likely into the typical Microsoft "Release Candidate" trials.

The Windows Vista team's Community Technology Previews have been a lesson to the IE team, said Schare, who said his group is "committed to more frequent updates."

As well it should, since chairman Bill Gates promised the same late last month at Microsoft's MIX06 conference for Web developers, when he said that the company would update IE more often, perhaps as frequently as every 9 months.

Schare also said that the final version of IE for Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 would appear before the one for Windows Vista. Vista, the often-delayed follow-on to XP, is now scheduled to first release in November, when it's made available to businesses with volume license programs in place.

"IE [for XP and Vista] will release from engineering at the same time, at least that's our expectation now," Schare said. "But it takes just a day or two to get it on the Web [for Windows XP and Server 2003]." Readying a disk image for distribution to volume customers is more time consuming.

IE 7 Beta 2, which can be downloaded free of charge, runs on Windows XP SP2, Windows XP 64-Bit Edition, and Windows Server 2003.

Also on Tuesday, Microsoft unveiled a new Web site, Internet Explorer Add-ons, that brings all IE add-on tools and software under one roof.

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