Microsoft: IE8 release candidate 'just around the corner'

Urges developers to get ready to test sites, mum on speed gains

Microsoft Corp. today said that the release candidate for Internet Explorer 8 is "just around the corner" and urged developers to get ready to test their sites with the new browser.

Elsewhere, the TG Daily technology news site leaked screenshots of what it said was the IE8 Release Candidate (RC), and said the build had been passed to Microsoft's closest partners last week.

"Developers, start your engines," said Dean Hachamovitch, IE's general manager. "There's now a sense of urgency. That's what 'the release candidate is around the corner' means."

But Hachamovitch declined to get more specific than that about when Microsoft would unveil IE8 RC, which is expected to be the final build shown to users and developers before the browser wraps up sometime in 2009. Last month, Microsoft committed only to a delivering the release candidate during the first three months of next year.

Because the release candidate is near, Web developers should be prepping for the changes they will need to make to accommodate the new browser as more users download and install it, Hachamovitch said.

Although Microsoft originally said it would stress backward compatibility with its older browsers -- especially IE7 and the sites designed and tweaked to properly display in it -- the company changed its mind last March after complaints mounted. Site designers and developers, tired of spending time writing code around IE's foibles, pushed Microsoft to adopt a Web standards mode in IE by default.

That would let them, they said, design a site just once and have that site correctly display in IE as well as in Mozilla Corp.'s Firefox, Google Inc.'s Chrome and other browsers.

Hachamovitch was sympathetic to the work developers would have to do to get their sites and applications ready for IE8, but he stressed that it would be to their benefit in the long run. "I have a lot of respect for those people who build the Internet," said Hachamovitch. "There are so many worthy activities that call on their time. [But while] in the short term there's work they need to do to bridge sites that work with IE8, it will pay off in the long run with the next billion Web pages."

Unlike TG Daily, which spelled out several new features in IE8 RC, Hachamovitch was hesitant to share details of what Microsoft had changed since it offered up Beta 2 in August.

One was a new option that lets users choose to automatically engage IE8's backward-compatibility mode and render sites on a Microsoft-generated list as does IE7. "At first run, users will be able to opt in to a list of sites," said Hachamovitch. "These are sites that are best used with Compatibility View."

Microsoft uses the telemetry data provided by some IE8 users to identify sites that are being heavily viewed in IE7 mode, reaches out to those sites, and as part of its effort to get developers to shift to IE8's default rendering mode, offers the list as a stopgap. "We tell them, 'In the meantime, we can add you to this list,'" said Hachamovitch.

The list is downloaded "with some regularity" he said, from Microsoft's servers to a user's PC via Windows Update or other standard update mechanisms, such as Windows Server Update Services (WSUS), the most popular business update process.

Hachamovitch also said end users would see marked improvements over IE8 Beta 2 in IE8 RC's reliability, site compatibility and performance, but he declined to claim how much faster the release candidate actually is. "It's definitely faster than IE8 Beta 2," he said. He refused to make any claims about IE8's JavaScript rendering speed, however, and called the claims of competitors such as Mozilla and Google, which have touted their browsers' JavaScript benchmark scores for much of the year, a "drag race" that Microsoft isn't interested in.

"The release candidate is around the corner," Hachamovitch said a second time during the interview. Developers should get ready for it, he added, because it "takes some time for sites to make changes and adjust."

Microsoft did not reply to a request for confirmation today that it has already seeded partners with the IE8 RC build.

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