Microsoft released Internet Explorer 8 (IE8) at 5am local time (9am US time) today, beating its biggest rival, Mozilla, in the race towards final code.
The new browser (see the review) will be available for manual download from the company's website, the hour selected to coincide with a keynote address at MIX09, the Microsoft-sponsored web developer conference where IE8 will be introduced, said James Pratt, a senior product manager on the IE development team.
"We'll be launching IE8 RTM [release to manufacturing] in 25 languages for Windows Vista, XP, Server 2003 and Server 2008," said Pratt.
Windows 7 users, the vast majority of them running the beta that debuted Jan. 10, will not see the final version of IE8 until Microsoft delivers the next public milestone of the operating system, Pratt said. He declined to promise that the final bits of the browser would make it into the Windows 7 release candidate, which Microsoft has strongly hinted will be offered to the general public. "But that would be ideal," he said.
People already using an earlier version of IE8 -- Microsoft issued two betas and one release candidate in the last 12 months -- will be offered the final code via Windows Update "over the next couple of weeks," said Pratt. "We want them to have the most up-to-date version."
At some still-unspecified later date, Microsoft will "switch on" IE8's automatic download and installation through Windows Update for people running the older IE6 or IE7 browsers. In January, the company posted a tool kit that corporate IT administrators can use to block IE8's installation when Microsoft pulls the Windows Update trigger.
Pratt was confident that Microsoft's servers would stand up to the expected load when users start hitting its site for IE8 today. In January, Microsoft had to postpone, then restart, the launch of Windows 7's public beta after the crush overwhelmed its servers. "An operating system and browser are different-sized packages," he noted. "We've had lots of experience releasing browsers, and I'm confident that it will be available to all users who want it."
As the company promised last November, Microsoft used what was for it a faster-paced development cycle near the end, sticking to its promise then to issue just a single "release candidate" build, which it did in late January 2009, before moving on to final.
But that doesn't mean Microsoft has its foot on the gas. "We are very deliberate in how we release a product," Pratt said, when asked whether Microsoft would pick up the pace to match the faster cycles of some of its rivals, such as Mozilla and Google. "When we build a browser, we have to balance the needs of a number of customers," he added, including enterprises that are traditionally loath to change software.
Ironically, the slower Microsoft beat the nimbler Mozilla in the race to the next major upgrade. Mozilla has had to postpone Firefox 3.5, formerly called 3.1, several times over the last eight months and has yet to issue a release candidate.
Even so, Mozilla welcomed the IE8 launch. "We're happy to see that Microsoft is not standing still," said Mike Beltzner, the director of Firefox. "But we're not standing still either. Browser makers have to keep up [because] people expect more of the web today."