Up next: IE 8.0

With IE 7 finally out the door, Microsoft has begun sharing some hints about IE 8.0, also known as IE Next. Chris Wilson, the newly minted platform architect for IE, addressed the Ajax Experience crowd this week and presented some of his thinking on what matters for the Web, going forward.

While the Microsoft-sanctioned name of the next version of Internet Explorer (IE) is IE "Next," it seems it will likely be christened IE 8.0.

That's according to Chris Wilson, the new platform architect for IE. (IE-team veteran Wilson, until a few days ago, was the group platform manager of IE. In his new role, Wilson will be spending his time focusing on making IE a better Web-development platform.)

Wilson delivered a couple of addresses at the Ajax Experience 2006 conference in Boston this week. In addition to dropping the IE 8.0 name, Wilson shared a few other IE-related tidbits, too:

* In the first four days following the release of the final IE 7.0 bits to the Web, 3 million copies were downloaded. And that's before Microsoft began pushing it to users via Automatic Updates.

"IE 7 does more than fix minor features," Wilson said. "It makes Ajax fun to develop on."

* As of last month, 90 percent of Windows users were running Windows XP or Windows Server 2003, according to Wilson. This means Microsoft increasingly will be assuming that developers are -- and should be -- designing for newer versions of Windows and not worrying so much about older releases.

* Currently, about one-third of the browser-compatibility problems encountered by IE 7 are attributable to applications and Web sites assuming IE 6.0 as the default browser. This has been a big problem for online banking applications, Wilson conceded.

While Wilson didn't share many meaty IE 8.0 details, he noted that security, privacy and compatibility will all be top priorities in the next IE release, which is expected some time in the next 12-18 months.

"Mash-ups will continue to drive innovation. Componentization and semantic tagging of data will be supported," Wilson told the Ajax Experience crowd. Wilson touted the harnessing of microformats, like Microsoft has done with its Live Clipboard effort, as "real world stuff" that will "make the Web much more usable."

"Microformats add meaning to content in HTML," Wilson said.

Wilson sounded a few warning bells, as well, telling the Ajax-friendly crowd that the Ajax programming model has "increased attack vectors on the Web," given that it is easier for hackers to get directly at content and data sources.

And while Web frameworks can help developers, by providing a base for more rapid development and application semantics, they also can create a "Tower of Babel" situation for developers attempting to integrate applications developed with different frameworks, Wilson said.

He also noted that one of the most commonly requested IE features -- the ability to run side-by-side versions of IE on the same machine -- is not trivial. (Wilson didn't say this, but I'd say don't count on it showing up in IE 8.0.)

"We (IE) are a set of system DLLs that are used by other parts of the system, so this makes it really hard," Wilson said. "We are trying to figure out how to make IE capable of this in the future."

For now, the best solution is virtualization, he conceded. And while "Virtual PC is now free, we are still trying to figure out the story around images and the licensing of images," Wilson said.

It also sounds as if IE support for XHTML is not going to be an IE 8.0 thing.

"We don't want to do a half-formed job" of XHTML support, Wilson said. He did note that Microsoft is testing a parser and experimenting with integrating multiple schema, however.

What about JavaScript support?

"We've started working on JavaScript again at the company," Wilson said. But the question remains: What do developers and users want JavaScript for? The answer to that question "will determine if we make JavaScript 2 part of our priority list," he said.