Public betas of new Web products are all the rage these days. In keeping with the trend, Motley Fool Inside Value pick Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) has released a public preview of its newest Web browser, Internet Explorer 7. It looks like Microsoft is addressing many of the important issues that have allowed rivals to nibble at Internet Explorer's still-formidable market share in the browser area -- but at present, it seems the House of Gates is only playing catch-up.
IE 7's new bells and whistles include an array of security features to combat phishing, spyware, and other nefarious intruders that can go bump in your PC. The new browser also sports tabbed browsing and a search box, features already popularized by rival Firefox. And in a nod to the ongoing blog boom, IE 7 will allow users to more easily subscribe to Real Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds than in its previous version.
Last week, I dueled with fellow Fool Chuck Saletta over Microsoft's prospects. I took the bearish stance, partly because I believe that Microsoft still needs to address the many reasons why it's lost confidence with its customers. These weaknesses include the Windows operating system's many security issues in recent years, and the risk that Microsoft's ever-increasing size may stifle its ability to innovate. Today's beta release from Microsoft only seems to support my argument.
After all, rival browser Firefox continues to hound Microsoft; many Firefox users have been lured from IE by the upstart browser's reputation for innovation and security. When I wrote about the launch of Firefox's latest version back in November, I noted that one market research firm had said that Internet Explorer's market share had dipped below the 90% mark. Despite Internet Explorer's ubiquity and Firefox's buzz, Internet users do have other choices in browsers, such as Opera, Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL ) Safari, and Netscape, now part of Time Warner's (NYSE: TWX ) America Online.
Of course, when it comes right down to it, Tuesday's preview of the new and improved Internet Explorer is just a teaser for the main event. The finished IE7 should launch sometime around the release of Windows Vista, the new version of Microsoft's operating system. Windows remains Microsoft's crown jewel, and many investors eagerly await Vista as an indication of the strength and innovation this technology giant has in store.
For now, though, it seems that Microsoft is at least keeping its eye on the features users want in a Web browser. While IE 7 may more closely match Firefox, many users may wonder whether Microsoft could have gone one step further and provided a few more innovations to stay ahead of its rivals.
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Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.