Microsoft No Pushover

The best defense is said to be a good offense and, with the beta release of Internet Explorer 7.0 due out this summer, Microsoft seems to agree.

With this beta release, there is much speculation as to why Microsoft changed their plans, since, originally, Microsoft was slated to release a new version of IE with Longhorn sometime in the future.

The bottom line is that the hot publicity and popularity of Mozilla Foundation’s Firefox browser inspired an earlier than expected release of Internet Explorer’s total redesign.

As a technical consultant who works with dozens of clients per year, I have personally witnessed Firefox’s rapid rise to glory.

At first this browser was a tiny whisper in the ear of the IT world. It started slowly creeping onto more computers and the word began to leak out. More and more, I would work with clients and hear phrases such as “tabbed browsing” and “more secure” and the tiny whisper around me grew to a steady buzz.

Finally, Firefox exploded onto the market and gained a significant market share, decreasing Microsoft’s market share to roughly 90%, almost overnight. To date, Firefox has had over 25 million downloads.

I compare Firefox’s current success to Apple’s iPod. iPods are everywhere. I was in Manhattan last week and couldn’t walk on the street without seeing the iPod trademark white earphones on every sidewalk and on every corner.

But why Firefox? The two greatest draws to this new product are tabbed browsing and increased security over prior releases of IE.

First, tabbed browsing is the essential you never knew you were missing. No more opening 15 sessions of IE. Use Firefox and have the luxury, ease, and organization of one open session with 15 separate web-site tabs.

And, secondly, you may remember the security challenges that Microsoft has recently faced with IE. Consultants and Web loggers started pushing for change and began recommending that computer users branch out and find a more secure browser. Well, Firefox was what they found.

These days when I go on site to work with clients, Firefox is running on more desktops than ever before. I remember a time when I would only see Firefox on a novel handful of IT Desktops. Now, the use of Firefox is widespread and not only by the innovators; I see it all over the place.

The sensational rise of Firefox and loss of market share finally caught the attention of Microsoft and they have strategized what I think will be an effective counter attack.

What can we expect from this beta release?

According to various sources and blogs, we can expect 7.0 to focus on security. Everyone agrees in the IT industry that Microsoft XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) was a success and it was a service pack that concentrated on security.

The IE that was released with SP2 was the most secure release of IE to date. I suspect that Microsoft will further build on this functionality by including an integrated news aggregator, full PNG transparency support, anti-phishing technology, and IP traffic encryption.

And finally, the straw that will break the Firefox’s back is a IE release that includes tabbed browsing. Yes, you IE users will also taste the glory of the tabs.

I believe that once IE 7.0 is released, the “browser war” threat will be gone. By simply adding tabbed browsing and increasing security, Microsoft will regain the lost market share and quell the rumblings.

Many people may have flocked to Firefox and Opera, but the flock is about to migrate back to the Northwest.