Microsoft on Thursday announced that it will release a public beta of Internet Explorer 9 on Sept. 15, a little less than five weeks from now.
Only a minority of Windows users will be able to try the beta, however. IE9 will not work on Windows XP, the aged operating system that powers nearly 68% of all PCs running Windows. The new browser requires either Windows Vista or Windows 7.
Thursday's announcement followed a comment made late last month by Kevin Turner, the company's chief operations officer, that the IE9 beta would show up in September. Until today, Microsoft had declined to set a date or even confirm Turner's statement.
Microsoft first announced IE9 in March, and it has released four developer preview builds since then. The most recent one appeared on Aug. 5, and at that time the company said the fourth such preview would be the last.
The developer previews have relied on an nearly-nonexistent interface that lacks even the most basic navigational features, such as a Back button or even an address bar.
Most expect that Microsoft will debut IE9's user interface in the beta next month.
According to reports earlier this year, IE9 was to feature a look copied from Windows Phone 7's "Metro" interface. Today, Neowin.net said sources had told it that Metro is out and a "simplistic UI similar to that of Google's Chrome" is in.
If so, it wouldn't be a surprise: Other browser makers, notably No. 2 Mozilla, have headed in that direction, too, as they follow the lead of Google and its cleaner-composed Chrome. Mozilla's next major upgrade, Firefox 4, will feature tabs on top and will eliminate the traditional Windows menus above the browser's content area, two features popularized by Chrome.
IE is on a two-month upswing in usage share, according to the most recent data from metric firm Net Applications, and Microsoft has to hope that IE9 will be able to maintain that momentum.
However, earlier this month Roger Capriotti, a product management lead on Microsoft's IE team, refused to be drawn into a discussion of the company's goals for IE9, or even whether the company thought the new version would entice erstwhile users to come back to the browser.
Vince Vizzaccaro, an executive at Net Applications, had previously pegged IE's increase in usage share to the growth of Windows 7, the Microsoft operating system that includes IE8, and to a national television advertising campaign in the U.S. More recently, he had other explanations.
"[The two-month increase] is more than a blip for IE," said Vizzaccaro in an interview last week. "Something is working for them. Maybe it's related to ongoing privacy concerns on the part of people with Google."
Microsoft has said nothing about a ship date for IE9, though many have speculated on an April 2011 release to coincide with MIX, the company's annual Web conference, which is slated to take place April 12-14, 2011, in Las Vegas.
It's possible the ship date will be significantly later: Microsoft finalized IE8 a full year after it released the first public beta for that browser. If it maintains the same pace for IE9, the upgrade's final edition might not appear until September 2011.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.