Brandon LeBlanc and I had a chance yesterday to talk to Gary Schare, IE's Product Manager, and he gave me the lowdown on how IE7 will be distributed, as well as information on plans for future IE development.
RWM: OK lets see. IE7 Beta 3 just came out, so you're not going to announce another build yet. RTM isn't till next quarter, so you're not releasing it early. So what is your big announcement? Is Microsoft buying Firefox?
GS: (laughing) No, although that is pretty funny. Actually, we're announcing our plans to distribute IE7 to customers after it RTMs next quarter.
RWM: Gotcha. Alright, give me the lowdown.
GS: Well, basically we're going to be distributing IE7 as a "High Priority" update through the Windows Update and Microsoft Update platforms shortly after RTM. But we're not forcing IE7 on anyone, so for consumers, we're going to override your default settings, and show a start screen that asks for your concent. We'll give the user three options "Install | Don't Install | Ask Me Later". And for the record, the screen you'll see has no default action, you'll have to explicitly select an option.
RWM: You're not going to automatically take over my desktop at 2am the next morning?
RWM: I'm sure people will like that. So that's for consumers, but what about businesses? They need to deploy IE7 on their own time.
GS: Exactly. That's why we're also putting out an enterprise blocker toolkit, which will hide the update from systems with the proper registry key.
RWM: Kind of like you guys did with XP Service Pack 2.
GS: Right, but there are two major differences from what we did in XPSP2. First, we announced the availablilty of the tool at almost the same time as the service pack, so companies had to scramble to install it before we updated their system... which as bad. Second, the XPSP2 blocker had an expiration date, which means that some companies had to roll out the service pack before they were finished testing.
RWM: Yeah, that was a bad deal.
GS: Right. So this time around, we're using the same mechanism as before, but we're rolling out the tool today, even though the product doesn't ship 'till next quarter. That should give companies plenty of time to test it and deploy it in their networks. Second, the blocker has no expiration date, so companies are free to roll out IE7 at their own pace, not ours.
Brandon LeBlanc: So why were you guys so aggressive with the XPSP2 rollout.
GS: Well, XPSP2 was a lifecycle replacement for XP and XPSP1, so we needed to get it out there... but IE7 does not replace IE6. IE6 will continue to be patched for another 5 years or so.
RWM: Gotcha. So when are we gonna see the next public build of IE7?
GS: Well, we're expecting one more public build between now and September. That will be a Release Candidate. It will be some minor cosmetic changes, but nothing major. Unless we have a showstopper that we want the public to test fixes for, that will be the last release before we RTM in Q4 2006.
RWM: That sounds good. So you guys don't get to rest now... what's happening with the next version of IE?
GS: Well, we're already working on the next release. Our plan at this point is to roll a new release every 18 months, on a Major-Minor-Major schedule. So the release we're working on next will be less focused on the underlying platform, and more focused on cosmentic changes.
BL: So will that be a point release?
GS: I can't say anything definite yet, but I expect that it will be IE7-point-something.
RWM: When would we expect to see bits for this next version?
GS: You'd probably see the first beta beginning next spring, although that's pretty fluid of course.
RWM: Of course. Well Gary, thanks for yout time.
GS: No problem.
Blocker Toolkit Download: http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?linkid=65788
IE7 Blocker Toolkit FAQ: http://www.microsoft.com/technet/updatemanagement/windowsupdate/ie7blockertoolfaq.mspx
Read more about Microsoft's IE distribution plans on the IE Blog.