Microsoft has boosted the prospects for some enhancements to Internet Explorer by appointing a new member to its product management team. Some analysts believe the appointment means that the much criticised browser will get a polish before Longhorn is released and IE's importance begins to fade.
Dave Massy, a technical evangelist at Microsoft, worked on the early development of IE but moved to the Longhorn team a few years ago -- around the same time the company won the war against Netscape and appeared to lose interest in dramatically changing its browser. On Massy's Web log on Monday he claimed the move "isn't big news" but confirmed he would be working on providing the development team with requests from customers.
"At this stage there isn't much more to add other than to reiterate the point that the Internet Explorer team does exist and does care," Massy said.
"I've really enjoyed working on Longhorn as a technical evangelist and remain very, very excited by the capabilities that Avalon and Longhorn will bring but the time was right for me to return to work on a product team," he said.
In June 2003, Microsoft announced it would not release any new versions of IE as a stand-alone browser. Instead, the software giant said IE would be an integrated part of Longhorn, the company's next major operating system.
However, Longhorn is unlikely to appear for another two or three years, and as many companies are slow to upgrade their operating systems, it may not be in widespread use for up to three years after that.
Microsoft has decided to improve IE because the company wants to protect its virtual monopoly of the browser market, according to Stephen O'Grady, senior analyst at Redmonk.
"Longhorn isn't going to be delivered in the timeframe Microsoft originally expected and users probably can't wait that long for a stabilised browser. So as a stop-gap move, they are going to shore up IE," O'Grady said.
O'Grady said that Longhorn will be designed to "blur the lines" between the Internet and the client, which means the browser will no longer be the primary link between the user and the Net.
"There are a lot of technologies in Longhorn that de-emphasise the importance of the browser," said O'Grady.
Richard Starnes, vice president of security industry group ISSA UK, welcomed Massy's move but said there is unlikely to be any noticeable changes for a long time.
"If he can bring back the same innovative spirit running up to IE 5.5, we can look forward to a good product. But the problem is that it will take about 18 months," Starnes said.
One of IE's competitors in the stand-alone browser sector is Opera, which earlier this year appointed ex-IBM Internet guru John Patrick to its board of directors.
Patrick told ZDNet UK he is not worried about Microsoft improving IE or the arrival of Longhorn, but he hopes any developments will adhere to industry standards.
"Microsoft has clearly neglected the browser for quite a long time. If they are going to pay more attention to the importance of standards, it is good news for everybody," Patrick said.