Have you downloaded Internet Explorer 9 yet? Microsoft hasn't even begun to automatically push the latest version of the browser - released about a month ago - out to Windows Vista and Windows 7 users, and yet it unveiled the initial Platform Preview for Internet Explorer 10 at the MIX '11 conference in Las Vegas this week.
Internet Explorer 10? Already?
Well, Microsoft has been accelerating its development with each iteration of the browser. IE6 - which still clings tenaciously to more than its fair share of the browser market - was launched in August of 2001. It took more than five years for Microsoft to release IE7 in October of 2006. IE8 took only about two and half years, followed by IE9 in a matter of only two years. With IE10, it looks like Microsoft is aiming for an annual release of the next major release of Internet Explorer.
And, while it may seem like a quick turnaround for Microsoft, an annual development cycle for a web browser is an eon compared to the 18-week turnaround being pursued by Mozilla for Firefox. I won't guarantee my maths, but based on the overlapping 18-week development cycle, Firefox could be up to Firefox 10 by the time Internet Explorer 10 is officially launched. If Microsoft spends another year working up to IE11, Firefox could be up to Firefox 16 by then. If we measured browser success on version numbers, Firefox could kick Microsoft's ass.
So, what can we expect with IE10? Microsoft is building on the hardware accelerated graphics, HTML5 support, and integration with the OS to extend the desktop to the web that it has already established with IE9. IE10 adds support for emerging standards like CSS3 Multi-column Layout, CSS3 Grid Layout and CSS3 Flexible Box Layout, CSS3 Gradients and ES5 Strict Mode in action.
It is also notable that with IE10 Microsoft is going from a line in the sand to a line carved in stone when it comes to OS compatibility. The move to make IE9 compatible only with Windows Vista and Windows 7 has ruffled a lot of feathers since Windows XP still has a majority of the OS market share globally. With IE10, even Windows Vista doesn't make the cut. The new browser will require Windows 7 at a minimum.
A post on Microsoft's IEBlog explains how "building a new browser for the ten-year old version of Windows that came with IE6 didn't make sense to us because of the limitations of its graphics and security architectures. Others have dropped support on Windows XP for functionality that we think is fundamental to performance".
"As Windows 7 usage exceeds Windows XP's in more and more countries, the sense in building for the future of the web rather than the past is clear."
The Microsoft blog post also contains a number of references to rival browser - mostly Firefox - and trumpets why Microsoft's vision for the future of the web is the right one. Meanwhile, Mozilla has agents feverishly slamming Microsoft's approach on Twitter, and making a case for why the Mozilla web culture makes more sense.
Honestly, though, Microsoft and Mozilla are both getting annoying with their thinly-veiled jabs and incessant stream of tweets slamming one another. For the love of all that's holy, just shut up and build your browser. Let the finished product speak for itself and stop trying to sell developers, or the general public on why your approach to delivering the web experience is more noble than the next.