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What Microsoft's 'fresh start' browser strategy means

Gregg Keizer | Jan. 2, 2015
A new browser not named 'IE' would give Microsoft ways to leave legacy support behind.

Pushing users toward IE11 could thus be seen as the first announced step -- necessary in 2014 to give customers, particularly conservative corporations, time to make the move -- in a broader plan to deemphasize that version as Microsoft prepared to unveil and aggressively promote a new browser or at least a new browser engine.

According to analytics vendor Net Applications, IE11 accounted for 43% of all versions of IE run in November, making it the most-used edition.

By consolidating users on IE11, Microsoft not only reduces its own support costs -- fewer versions of IE to support -- but prepares customers for a future where only IE11 boasts the kind of backward compatibility necessary for enterprises.

Other promises Microsoft made in August back that speculation, as it pledged that the legacy support tool introduced in April, "Enterprise Mode for Internet Explorer 11," would be maintained, improved and supported on Windows 7 through its retirement date of January 14, 2020. By continuing to maintain Enterprise Mode for IE11, Microsoft would be able to tell companies to standardize on that browser if they needed to support legacy websites and apps. Others would be able to move to the new browser -- if Foley is correct -- or use the new lighter-weight Trident engine, assuming Neowin is more on the mark.

A brand new browser, however, would give Microsoft an advantage over offering two rendering engines within one named IE.

Historically, Microsoft has supported a version of IE until the end of support for the edition of Windows it ran on. Although that policy is now in tatters because of the January 2016 deadline -- IE10's support on Windows 7 was chopped by seven years with that decision -- a new, separate browser as Foley outlined would let Microsoft make even more radical moves.

Other browsers, including Chrome and Firefox, are patched only in their latest versions. Because Google and Mozilla update their browsers every six to eight weeks, users must keep pace or risk running a vulnerable application.

Microsoft may want to follow in their footsteps: In fact, the FAQ dedicated to the January 2016 deadline noted rivals' practices as a reason for those changes. "Focusing support on the latest version of Internet Explorer for a supported Windows operating system is in line with industry standards," the FAQ read (emphasis added).

A newly-named browser would allow Microsoft to change its support policy for that application to match Chrome's and Firefox's. In other words, if Microsoft releases a browser named "Spartan," it might tell customers that they need to run the latest update to receive patches, then update that browser every few weeks. (In 2014, Microsoft patched IE every month.)


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