Microsoft silent on whether version 8 will be the last Internet Explorer

This week, elements of the blogosphere drew speculative conclusions about a Microsoft Research paper released last month in time for TechFest, which concerned a prototype Web browser constructed expressly for the purpose of testing new concepts in Web browser user authentication. Cross-site scripting has, after all, been a security plague for nearly every browser at one time or another -- the ability for a script launched by one page to intentionally take control of a page in a completely different window.

Perhaps without even reading the paper itself (PDF available here), speculators concluded that it pointed either to the architecture of the next version of Internet Explorer, or that it somehow signaled the end of the Internet Explorer product line -- that somehow Microsoft, or Microsoft in conjunction with someone else (maybe the University of Washington?), would be making Web browsers for future editions of Windows but without the IE logo. It's a far, far extrapolation of a conclusion that could not possibly have been reached through any logical process.

Late yesterday, a Microsoft Research spokesperson confirmed for Betanews that "Gazelle" -- the project name for its browser experiment, conducted with some help from the U of W -- is not in any way intended to be a prototype for a next-generation Microsoft browser.

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However, in a surprising turn of events this morning, from the other side of the corporate campus, spokespersons for Microsoft's consumer products officially declined comment on whether Internet Explorer 8 would not be the company's last version of Internet Explorer. This despite every indication we've ever received privately that Microsoft engineers not related to its Research division are working on future editions of the Web browser, as part of a broad company roadmap.

While it's understandable in the midst of its defense against the European Commission's January Statement of Objections that Microsoft may not wish to offer any details about the direction its future Web browser development is taking, today's decline of comment is the first step Microsoft has taken thus far to publicly refuse to confirm or deny that any development beyond IE8 is even taking place.

As for whether Gazelle has anything to do with this, the research paper itself provides a clear answer to any questions on that topic. It actually states the test browser is a rebuilt version of IE7: "Instead of undertaking a significant effort of writing our own HTML parser, renderer, and JavaScript engine, we borrow these components from Internet Explorer 7 in a way that does not compromise security. Relying on IE's Trident renderer has a big benefit of inheriting IE's page rendering compatibility and performance. In addition, such an implementation shows that it is realistic to adapt an existing browser to use Gazelle's secure architecture."

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