Microsoft slates IE9 launch March 14

Plans to kick off downloads at 9 a.m. PT

Microsoft today announced it would launch Internet Explorer 9 (IE9) on Monday, March 14.

The announcement was no surprise: A month ago, Microsoft issued invitations to the press for a March 14 event at SXSW (South by Southwest Conferences and Festivals) in Austin, Texas. The company had also promised to ship IE9 in the first quarter, which ends in three weeks.

IE9 will be available for download from Microsoft's servers beginning at 9 a.m. PT Monday, said Dean Hachamovitch, the head of IE's engineering, in a blog post today.

At some point after the "release to the Web" (or RTW) of March 14, Microsoft will start offering the new browser to Windows Vista and Windows 7 users. If Microsoft hews to its usual practice, those offers will begin to appear about six weeks later.

Previously, Microsoft has given users the opportunity to reject or delay the installation of major browser upgrades. It has also published a blocking toolkit that enterprise IT administrators can use to insure IE9 doesn't make it onto company PCs.

Windows XP users will not see the IE9 RTW offer because the browser does not work on the still-dominant operating system, an omission that rivals have used to their advantage.

The launch of IE9 comes one year after Microsoft delivered the browser's first "platform preview," a bare-bones early build that lacked an interface and basic navigation tools. IE9 follows its predecessor, IE8, by two years, a slightly-shorter cycle than the two years and five months between IE7 and IE8.

Microsoft released a public beta of IE9 last September, and followed that with a "release candidate," (RC) a month ago.

According to Microsoft, 36 million copies of the beta and RC have been downloaded in the last seven months.

While the numbers may be impressive, IE9 has yet to make an impact on Microsoft's global browser usage share. Statistics from Web metrics company Net Applications pegged IE9's share in February at 0.6%, the same as IE8 had six months before that browser's March 2009 launch.

IE's total usage share has slipped about three percentage points since Microsoft introduced the beta of IE9.

However, it appears likely that Microsoft will beat Mozilla to the upgrade punch Monday. The latter's Firefox 4, once slated to ship in November 2010, is nearing completion -- Mozilla has wrapped up the first RC of Firefox 4 -- but will apparently go final after IE9.

Like Microsoft, Mozilla has high hopes its newest browser: Firefox's share has dropped three percentage points since it peaked at 24.7% in November 2009.

IE9 RTW should be available at several locations on Microsoft's site, including its Download Center and the IE page.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

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