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Microsoft's IE slipping into Chrome release cycle?

More frequent, smaller releases

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Microsoft is holding firm to its Internet-Explorer release schedule rather than follow Mozilla or Google by stepping up the pace of deliveries - officially, at least.

Senior director of IE business and marketing Ryan Gavin speaking to The Reg at the launch of the Internet Explorer 9 Release Candidate (RC) this month dismissed Mozilla's new plan to deliver four versions of Firefox on users PCs, Macs and mobiles during 2011.

We're still waiting for one for Mozilla to stop hesitating and deliver Firefox 4.0, but that's another story.

The plan inside Microsoft is for steady releases that deliver substantial changes rather than follow Firefox, or Google that slipped out six updates to Chrome in 2010.

Gavin told The Reg during Microsoft's IE event in San Francisco: "Iteration and putting out more version numbers doesn't equal substantial updates."

"Look at what we did with the platform preview model - we had substantial updates. Developers told us: 'That's great - you are respecting my time - when you are putting something out, there's something with substance and it's new and it's tested'."

Gavin conflates a little, and picks on the numerous Firefox betas saying it's hard to know what each contained.

Turns out, though, there's been almost as many platform previews of IE9 as there have been Firefox betas - 12 versus eight since March 2010, with one code drop a beta in September. Aside from Microsoft's obsessive and incessant tinkering with JavaScript's performance, there were three real landmarks in the IE9 story.

The Chakra Jscript engine and support for CSS3 and SVG that came with Microsoft's first build, HTML5 video and audio tags that appeared with build three; and the minimalist, Chrome-like interface that officially debuted with last year's beta.

The beta made the IE9 Chrome recede into the background and be consumed by a site, while Microsoft's browser combines the address and search boxes into a single OneBox.

Microsoft, with all the browser makers, has also chucked in its response to the US government's call for greater respect for consumer's privacy on the web with its do-not-track list technology called Tracking Protection.

Firefox, meanwhile, has added hardware acceleration, support for Windows 7 multi-touch, a new JavaScript engine combined with changes to juice the speed of JavaScript, some Chrome-like tabs, a "faster" UI, and a do-not-track header along with various bug fixes along the way in different betas. HTMTL 5 video, audio and geo-location were already there, as was SVG.

Despite what Gavin says about not following Mozilla down the path of more releases, Microsoft has stepped on the accelerator for IE9. IE8 took a year between the first public beta and delivery in March 2009. Microsoft's chief executive Steve Ballmer has put IE9's release "in the next month of so" with the IE team preparing a press and analyst event at the tech and arts indie fest South By South West next month in Austin, Texas. If March is the date, Microsoft will have cut the time from beta to product in half.

Speaking to The Reg, Gavin told us: "See how quickly we go from beta to RC and from RC to final release. I think that cadence is something you can expect to continue."

Will this continue after IE9 is delivered? We'll have to see.

And while Gavin dismissed four Firefox browsers, it's not Firefox that's setting the pace for Microsoft - it's Chrome.

During the San Francisco RC-event all Microsoft's speed comparisons were against Chrome. Plus there's that homage to Chrome's all-in-one address and search box.

With six releases in 12 months Google has certainly cranked up the pressure on Microsoft, in addition to Mozilla. The browser saw its JavaScript performance improved, support was added for HTML5 with the inclusion of APIs for geolocation, web sockets, App Cache and file drag and drop, Adobe's Flash Player and Google's open-source WebM video codec were added, full compliance with ACID 3 was achieve and security was tightened up.

Mozilla is following Google down the route of more frequent releases. Microsoft is also sliding in that direction. With HTML5 and JavaScript added, though, will Microsoft have anything substantial left up its sleeve to deliver?

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