Before I answer this, I want to acknowledge that we have a problem if people are asking this question. Listing what we’ve done or our priorities will help but won’t address the problem. Responding to specific questions with a great product and great documentation (for developers, for IT professionals, for deployment specialists, and for other customers as well), and doing that consistently for as long as we’ve been quiet about IE will help more.
So, what happened after Microsoft released IE6? Mostly the same things that happen after any product releases. Briefly:
- Platform. Many of the people who had worked on the underlying platform of IE (layout and the rendering surface, scripting and extensibility, etc.) started working on next-generation platform pieces (e.g. Avalon, the Common Language Runtime, etc.). To oversimplify, they wanted to make developing powerful, secure applications and sites a lot easier.
- Experience. Many of the people who had worked on the experience of IE started working on next-generation Internet client experiences (e.g. the core Windows shell, MSN Explorer, Instant Messenger, etc.). To oversimplify, they wanted to make using the Internet a lot better than “just another browser.”
- Customer servicing. Many of the people who had worked closely with our corporate customers focused primarily on servicing. For example, large organizations en route to phasing out legacy systems (e.g. accounting, transaction processing, factory floor manufacturing) ask Microsoft for specialized, “one-off” changes in IE to get that legacy system to work with Windows.
- Security response and pre-emption. Many people focused on security. Some customers have asked me if this is “just plugging holes;” it’s not. We do a lot of work (both internal at Microsoft as well as with external groups) to identify and address vulnerabilities before they are public. We do a lot of work to make sure that the way we eliminate vulnerabilities does not have a negative impact on applications (e.g. the AOL client), plug-ins (e.g. the Google toolbar or Macromedia Flash), or web sites that rely on particular IE behavior. We have a well-articulated support policy and product lifecycle for our legacy products, and updated an enormous matrix of IE / Windows version combinations.
- Other. Some people were tired of working on browsers and moved on to do completely different things (like working on Office, or Xbox, or Windows Media Center Edition).
So, what did we (Microsoft, not just IE) do? I don’t intend this as an excuse for what we haven’t done, but as a fair description of what we did do. Briefly:
- Many non-IE releases that made the browsing experience better (e.g. MSN Explorer, the MSN Toolbar) and the applications platform better (e.g. .NET CLR).
- Many “smaller than a complete release of IE” releases as part of Windows. Shipping is a feature; each release took considerable effort on the part of many people. Specifically: Windows XP SP1 (and IE6 SP1), several Windows 2000 service packs (and associated IE5.01 updates), Windows Media Center, the Tablet PC edition, Windows XP SP2, Windows Server 2003, and (in progress now) the 64-bit Windows client and Server 2003 SP1.
- Many (in fact, hundreds upon hundreds) of specialized changes for customers (see Customer servicing above)
- Many security updates for IE5.01, IE 5.5, and IE6 across many, many different languages and versions of Windows.
I want to call out XP SP2 in particular. Our goal was to eliminate entire classes of vulnerabilities while maintaining compatibility with applications, add-ins, and services. I think this was a strong step forward.
There’s also tremendous work on Avalon and XAML that the world is only starting to see. You can read more about that on other blogs, both on MSDN and off (for example, Chris Anderson’s).
I think the unarticulated question behind “What have you guys been doing?” is “Do you think it’s enough?” I want to answer clearly: No, it’s not enough. It’s a good start, but we need to do more (product) and communicate more (acknowledge that we’re listening, post responses, and reflect that feedback in the product). That’s why we’re working on IE7.