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In the old days just before you left military service, you were expected to become "demob" happy and go a little crazy. With only six months to go before he "transitions", it seems Bill Gates is showing the first signs of being demob happy - or at least losing touch with what Microsoft is up to.

In response to a question from a panel of bloggers last week about what the hell is going on with the next version of Internet Explorer (IE) he replied: "I'll have to ask Dean what the hell is going on. I mean, we're not - there's not like some deep secret about what we're doing with IE".

When pressed further Gates inadvertently let slip that the next version of Explorer would be called IE 8: "I'll ask Dean what's going on. I mean, is IE 8 represented at MIX? I assume it is." MIX is Microsoft's web and media developers conference, planned for next March in Las Vegas.

The all-knowing "Dean" in both cases refers to Microsoft's IE development general manager Dean Hachamovitch who in an apparent fire-drill blog posting was forced to write that, yes indeed, the next version of IE would be IE 8 - although he also (humorously) listed several other possible names that had been under consideration.

This is the first, albeit pointless, piece of genuine information about the next version IE to come from Microsoft despite a sustained barrage of protest from developers throughout 2007. They want answers to questions such as: "Will it comply with web standards?" and: "Will it be compatible with CSS?"

Back in May, Microsoft implied it would be more forthcoming about IE development. And in July information slipped out that suggested Microsoft was lifting a few ideas from Firefox. Otherwise there has been nothing but stony silence - until now.

Given the rapid response from Hachamovitch in the wake of Gates' revelation, one suspects that this was not planned and that IE 8 is IE 8 most likely because Bill says it is.

This will all change soon, though. As revealed elsewhere Microsoft is currently searching for a director of Windows client disclosure who will, presumably, tell all.

A full transcript of Gates' Mix'n'Mash conversation is available here.®

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