The IE Blog announced tonight that IE7 will be released by end of this month - and will be delivered to customers via Automatic Updates a few weeks after it’s available for download. The IE Blog states:
"Compatibility with sites, extensions and applications has been a very high priority for us as we develop new features, enhance the existing features and move the platform forward to be more secure and standards compliant. We are continually listening to feedback from our customers, partners and leaders in the industry to resolve major compatibility issues to ensure our common customers have a great experience with IE7. As we make key improvements in areas such as layout and security, some changes need to be made by site owners to work smoothly with IE7. We have produced detailed documentation, tools and other resources to assist site, extension and application owners in their testing and development efforts to ensure they are compatible with IE7. We have also proactively worked with hundreds of companies to resolve issues that were reported through our beta testing to ensure those issues were resolved before IE7 is released."
Compatibility will indeed be a key test for IE7. Back in August I interviewed Microsoft’s Chris Wilson, the Group Program Manager for IE, to address the issue of whether Microsoft’s latest web browser IE7 is - and will be - CSS and Web standards compliant. Chris told me then that IE7 aims to support CSS and web standards, but at that point they were still a fair way off that target. It'll be interesting to see how much progress has been made when IE7 is officially released in a few weeks.
See also my review and screenshots of IE7 Release Candidate 1.