Browser Watch

Microsoft: Give IE another chance

Tidbits from a Reddit "Ask Me Anything" chat also include browser name-change, faster updates and the demise of IE8

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"This will irritate enterprise customers," said Wes Miller of Directions on Microsoft a week ago of the support changes. "They want to hang on to their legacy [Web] apps."

The AMA thread also touched on Microsoft's new accelerated release cadence, another in a series of announcements from the Redmond, Wash. company last week. The plan, Microsoft said, was to update Windows with smaller, more-frequent feature refreshes. That will also apply to IE, which received several improvements -- primarily to integrated developer tools -- on Aug. 8, Microsoft's monthly "Patch Tuesday" slate of security patches.

"Starting with IE11, we've been using our existing monthly 'Patch/Update Tuesdays' to start shipping more than just security and reliability fixes," noted Jacob Rossi on the AMA. "Last week, we started rolling out new and improved F12 Developer Tools, WebGL Instancing Extension and other improvements, and also the infrastructure for WebDriver support."

In effect, Microsoft wants to mimic the regular, and frequent, upgrades that Google and Mozilla provide for their Chrome and Firefox browsers. IE's developers pointed out that the release pace has quickened.

"We've gotten faster," said Williams. "Went from 2 years to 18 months to 12 months [between IE10 and IE11]. We're getting better but more work to do." She also called a cadence similar to Chrome's and Firefox's -- the former updates to a new version number every six to eight weeks, the latter, every six weeks -- a goal for Microsoft and IE.

"I would really love to see us be able to ship at a quicker cadence," answered Greg Whitworth after a commenter asked him to name one IE improvement on his wish list. "This would allow us to address issues (and add new features) we find in a more timely manner. We're getting there, but we admittedly still have a ways to go."

That aside, Microsoft will apparently keep to its practice of changing version numbers only infrequently, not with every monthly update, as do Google and Mozilla.

There will be an IE12, in other words.

"Will there ever be an IE12, or should we interpret the inclusion of functional changes in IE11's minor updates as an indication that IE11 will be the last version of the browser?" asked an AMA participant.

"IE11 will not be the latest version of the browser," answered Charles Morris.

IE12 will likely be released alongside "Threshold," the code name for the next iteration of Windows; Microsoft may end up calling it "Windows 9." Speculation on a release timeframe for Threshold, and thus IE12, has centered on the spring of 2015, with Gartner pegging it as the second quarter, or sometime in April, May or June.

IE numerology will remain important, although how much so is unclear. In its Aug. 7 support-change announcement, Microsoft said, "Only the most recent version of Internet Explorer available for a supported operating system will receive technical support and security updates."

If IE11 is superseded by IE12 next April, for example, the former will drop out of support for Windows 8 and 8.1, and probably also for Windows 7.

What Microsoft has so far declined to describe, however, is how long it will support IE11 after a successor appears. Some have interpreted Microsoft's statement of "only the most recent version" to mean that as soon as IE12 debuts, IE11 drops into the retirement bucket.

While the question of the future support timeline didn't come up in yesterday's AMA, in several replies the IE team hinted that the death of IE11 support will come sooner rather than later.

"We have a very strong goal to get users on the most current version of the browser," said Matt Rakow.

The Ask Me Anything can be read in its entirety on Reddit.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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