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IE 8 and Windows 7 RC-Beta Mashups

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Microsoft gives and gives more. On the 23rd January, the company extended the download availability of Windows 7 Beta 1. Yesterday, 26th January, Microsoft released Internet Explorer 8 Release Candidate 1. But the two shall never meet.

Since I’ll spend less time writing about Windows 7, it’s first news. Originally, Microsoft planned to allow only 2.5 million downloads of Windows 7 Beta 1. But almost immediately, Microsoft removed the cap and extended downloads of Windows 7 Beta 1 until the 24th January, which was also the 25th anniversary of the Apple Macintosh. There’s a new download cutoff: 10th February.

In a late 23rd January post on the Windows 7 Team blog, Brandon LeBlanc explained that:

* Starting tomorrow, 27th January, the Windows 7 download page will warn about the ending downloads.

* New downloads will end 10th February.

* Partial downloads can be completed through 12th February.

* Product activation keys will be available even after the 12th February, so if you’ve got the ISO you can install the software on more machines.

The extension demonstrates Microsoft’s confidence in the beta, or at least after people responded favourably to the software. If I worked for Microsoft, I would have extended the deadline for no other reason than one: Walt Mossberg. The prominent Wall Street Journal technology writer reported a favorable early reaction to Windows 7 Beta 1 in a 21st January column. Walt’s column reaches thousands of business decision makers, some of whom surely were asking their IT departments about Windows 7 by the following afternoon. His column was reason enough for Microsoft to extend the download a couple more weeks.

For those testing Windows 7, Internet Explorer 8 Release Candidate 1 will be troublesome. The RC is available for Windows XP and Vista, but not for the external Windows 7 beta. Microsoft announced the release candidate around 3 p.m. today. On the 23rd January I spoke with Microsoft’s James Pratt about the browser. He described the version in Windows 7 Beta 1 as a “pre-release candidate.” Microsoft has already incorporated the RC into internal Windows 7 builds. The public is out of luck, which is an oversight Microsoft should remedy through Windows Update, I say.

Microsoft will distribute the IE 8 release candidate via Windows Update to anyone already running Beta 1 or Beta 2. Everyone else can download the software, which Microsoft is releasing in 25 languages.

In a blog posted this afternoon, IE program manager Jane Maliouta offers helpful hints for installing IE 8 RC1. Among the tips: special instructions about where Beta 1 was installed after Windows XP Service Pack 3 and regarding security hotfixes.

Quick links to some IE 8 RC1 downloads:

* Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008

* Windows Server 2008 and Windows Vista 64-Bit Editions

* Windows XP

* Windows Server 2003 SP2

* Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP 64-Bit Editions

Reminder: Microsoft had previously released a blocker that allows businesses to prevent automatic downloads of IE 8. Now would be a good time to start putting the blocker in place if your business isn’t ready for the browser.

Why? The release of IE 8 is coming, and almost certainly within a few months. Today’s RC release marks a resumption of schedule. In November 2008, Microsoft delayed the expected IE 8 RC1 until this year. Dean Hachamovitch, Internet Explorer general manager, blogged: “We will release one more public update of IE 8 in the first quarter of 2009, and then follow that up with the final release.”

I would call a release candidate something more than just another public beta. Internet Explorer and Windows development tend to closely follow each other, not in lockstep but close enough. I take it as yet another sign that Windows 7 development is proceeding faster than Microsoft is publicly letting on. Like Internet Explorer 7 and Windows Vista, I expect that IE 8 will be released to manufacturing ahead of Windows 7.

The reason for the delay is now apparent. Microsoft has done quite a bit of additional tinkering with IE 8. For example:

* In-Private Filtering replaces In-Private Blocking from IE 8 Beta 2. James demoed this one for me on Friday. I’m impressed, and so sorry that Windows 7 Beta 1 is running on all my computers. Microsoft now gives users granular control over third-party tracking mechanisms—not just tracking cookies. Can you say Java Script and Web beacons? In-Private Filtering works in any browser session, meaning users don’t have to go into In-Private Browsing mode. Web beacon blocking would be hugely useful if applied to Web mail or e-mail clients using IE 8 to render HTML.

* Compatibility View List reflects Microsoft’s continuing struggle to get out a standards-compatible browser that also is compatible with Web sites coded for older IE versions. The list is a catalog of sites best viewed in IE 8 “compatibility” mode. Instead of users switching to compatibility mode, the browser does that for any site on the View List. Yes, but is there an off feature?

* Search is simply better. Finally, IE has good page search. But what took so damn long?

IE 8 is the most significant upgrade to the browser family in more than a decade—not since IE 4, I say. This is the version you want to download, try and adopt. I faulted Microsoft for IE 7, which improved on Version 6 but also introduced unnecessary complexity and failed to be rightly compatible.

I’ve long said that Microsoft does its best work when competition is fiercest. Browser competition is fiercer now than during the 1990s browser wars. Why? There’s real money to be made from Web search.