Microsoft will ship a preview of Internet Explorer 10 (IE10) for Windows 7 next month, but would not commit to a timetable for a final release.
"We will release a preview of IE10 on Windows 7 in mid-November, with final availability to follow as we collect developer and customer feedback," said Rob Mauceri, group program manager on the IE team, in an entry today on the group's blog.
Microsoft declined to answer all follow-up questions about IE10 on Windows 7, including when the final would ship.
IE10 will be included with Windows 8 when that OS goes on sale and hardware powered by the upgrade reaches store shelves and online outlets Ocober 26. The browser is also bundled with Windows RT, the spinoff touch-first OS used by Microsoft's Surface RT tablet.
IE10 was first introduced to Windows 7 users in April 2011 as a "Platform Preview," which then ran through several iterations before being halted by Microsoft in June 2011.
From that point on, follow-up previews were pitched only to Windows 8 users.
IE10 will run on Windows 8, Windows RT and Windows 7: Early on, Microsoft confirmed that the browser would not work on Windows Vista, much less Windows XP, which remains stuck on 2009's IE8.
Microsoft was the first, and so far, only, vendor to drop Vista from the support list of a new browser, just as it was the first -- and again, the only -- developer to abandon Windows XP.
Nearly a year ago, Microsoft pledged to ship beta and RC, or "release candidate," builds of IE10 for Windows 7. "We will release an IE10 Beta and Release Candidate on Windows 7 prior to IE10's general availability," said a commenter labeled as "ieblog," identified elsewhere as the in-house editor of the IE team's engineering blog.
Assuming that "general availability" meant the first public appearance of the browser, which will happen next week, that promise was never kept.
Instead, Microsoft will release what it calls a "preview" -- a relatively new term that has been applied equally to either beta or release candidate milestones -- about three weeks after IE10's debut on Windows 8.
It's unclear when Microsoft will finish work on IE10 for Windows 7.
IE10's predecessor, IE9, reached beta in September 2010, or six months before the March 2011 launch of final code. IE9 made release candidate about a month prior to the browser's official debut.
If the IE10 on Windows 7 release next month is, in fact, analogous to a beta -- in that case Microsoft would likely dub it a "Consumer Preview" -- users may not see a final until near the end of April 2013. On the other hand, a more polished sneak peek, perhaps tagged as "Release Preview," could hint at a launch before the end of 2012.
Whatever schedule Microsoft adopts, the company has already made moot analysts' predictions that Microsoft was accelerating its browser development pace. They came to that conclusion last year when Microsoft announced IE10 just weeks after the March 2011 release of IE9.
By the time IE10 appears alongside Windows 8 and Windows RT, nearly 19 months will have passed since the launch of IE9. For Windows 7 users, the stretch could be more than two years.
Users and Web developers have regularly chastised the company in comments on the IE team's blog for the sluggish pace of IE10 development on Windows 7, arguing that the delay has damaged the browser's chances of adoption.
That continued today, as commenters weighed in on Mauceri's post.
"WHAT! I thought IE10 RTM [release to manufacturing] would be out on 26th Oct. along with Windows 8. Not happy, Microsoft!" said a commenter labeled as "Sam."
Others were much sharper in their criticism.
"It's been over a year since the last [Platform] Preview for Windows 7. It's unfathomable that it's taken so long," said "SnowKnight26" today. "It really goes to show how mixed up the IE development team's priorities are if IE10 RTM GM [general availability] won't be next week ... or even next month."
"Too little, too late," said "Scorpian3003" later. "You really dropped the ball on this [one], Microsoft."
"Either release a browser more than once a year, or give up. It's simple as that," added another commenter.
Without Windows 7's backing, IE10 has little chance of building appreciable market share on Windows 8 and Windows RT. Last month, for example, Windows 8 accounted for only 0.33% of all computers running Windows, or 33 out of every 10,000 Windows machines.
That number was five times smaller than Windows 7 share a month before it shipped in October 2009.
Windows 7, however, powered 48% of all Windows PCs in September 2012, according to statistics from metrics company Net Applications.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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