It seems as though Microsoft has decreed Internet Explorer, the de facto web browser for Windows, dead (at least feature-wise and as an installable browser) at this point in time. Straight from the horse’s mouth, they declare the following (in a Q & A session):</p>

Q: when will IE get transparent PNG support?

A: Ian, I’m sorry, I can’t answer that question for you

Q: when / will there be the next version of IE?

A: As part of the OS, IE will continue to evolve, but there will be no future standalone installations. IE6 SP1 is the final standalone installation.

Q: What’s the long-term outlook for IE as a development platform? Are there major limitations planned for future releases (such as in Longhorn) due to security reasons? I know that this is a concern to many developers that rely on IE technology.

A: Security continues to be a top priority. The platform will change for longhorn but you can expect the client, where folks need to browse, to not be as restrictive as the server. I encourage folks to get involved in our beta program to help us evolve the platform

Q: Why is this? the anti-trust? (no further standalone)

A: Although this is off topic, I will answer briefly: Legacy OSes have reached their zenith with the addition of IE 6 SP1. Further improvements to IE will require enhancements to the underlying OS.

Sorry. Having to update the operating system is complete and utter hogwash. Mozilla takes advantage of PNG transparency, has nice rendering and proper CSS support, tabbed browsing, pop-up blocking, renders pages quicker, and is open source — and it does it on multiple versions of Windows (taking advantage of what it can, like in XP, it uses the native theme infrastructure). In addition to Windows, Mozilla even does what it does on multiple, non-Windows operating systems!

Listed directly above is just a few of the big features. There’s a more exhaustive list of several other reasons why Mozilla is better available.

Anyway, according to the project manager of the Internet Explorer project at Microsoft, it seems as though their browser is grandfathered. It will not get any updates unless they deem it necessary (mostly security “enhancements”, something that it seems to take them a while to fix…)

We can hope that hardware vendors, ISPs, and others relying on Internet Explorer take this into consideration. I’m sure Internet-related companies outside of Microsoft want the best experience for people browsing the web. Eventually, some of them may hopefully start shipping alternative browsers on the desktop, such as Mozilla or even Opera. AOL has already embedded Mozilla in their AOL for OS X and Compuserve clients. (Of course, I’m not sure how yesterday’s AOL and Microsoft announcement factors into all of this…)

Anyway, it’s sad to see that Microsoft does not seem to support real innovation, especially in something as neat (and important) as the Internet.

With a company so large and a product so important, you would think that there would be more emphasis placed on the browser so that it supports even the basic standards that have been around for years (PNG, CSS 1 & 2, etc.). Mozilla, Konqueror, Safari, and Opera all support this basic featureset all extraordinay well.

If Microsoft’s stated position on the subject (from the Q & A session linked above) is accurate, then they are really doing a disservice to not only their users but to the world wide Internet community as well.

(Thanks to Kevin for pointing out the link.)