Microsoft has told developers to prepare to test their sites on Internet Explorer 8, which it said is "just around the corner".
"Developers, start your engines," said Dean Hachamovitch, IE's general manager. "There's now a sense of urgency. That's what 'the release candidate is around the corner' means."
Hachamovitch refused to be more specific about when Microsoft would take the wraps off IE8 RC, which is expected to be the final build shown to users and developers before the browser is launched sometime in 2009.
Last month, Microsoft committed only to a delivering the release candidate during the first three months of next year.
Because the release candidate is near, Web developers should be prepping for the changes they'll need to make to accommodate the new browser as more users download and install it, Hachamovitch said.
Although Microsoft originally said it would stress backward compatibility with its older browser -- especially IE7 and the sites designed and tweaked to properly display in it -- the company changed its mind last March after complaints mounted. Site designers and developers, tired of spending time writing code around IE's foibles, pushed Microsoft to adopt a Web standards mode in IE by default.
Hachamovitch was sympathetic to the work developers would have to do to get their sites and applications ready for IE8, but stressed that it would be to their benefit in the long run.
"I have a lot of respect for those people who build the Internet," said Hachamovitch. "There are so many worthy activities that call on their time. [But while] in the short term there's work they need to do to bridge sites that work with IE8, it will pay off in the long run with the next billion Web pages."
Hachamovitch was hesitant to share details of what Microsoft had changed since it offered up Beta 2 in August.
One was a new option that lets users choose to automatically engage IE8's backward-compatibility mode and render sites on a Microsoft-generated list as does IE7. "At first run, users will be able to opt in to a list of sites," said Hachamovitch. "These are sites that are best used with Compatibility View."
Microsoft uses the telemetry data provided by some IE8 users to identify sites that are being heavily viewed in IE7 mode, reaches out to those sites, and as part of its effort to get developers to shift to IE8's default rendering mode, offers the list as a stopgap. "We tell them 'In the meantime, we can add you to this list,'" said Hachamovitch.
The list is downloaded "with some regularity" he said, from Microsoft's servers to a user's PC via Windows Update or other standard update mechanisms, such as Windows Server Update Services (WSUS), the most popular business update process.
Hachamovitch also said end users would see marked improvements in IE8 RC's reliability, site compatibility and performance compared to IE8 Beta 2 , but declined to claim how much faster the release candidate actually is.