Microsoft's latest announcement that it will release a beta version this summer of its next Internet Explorer browser, IE7, before and most importantly, without its updated Windows companion shocked few and only slightly surprised many. This announcement signifies a sharp departure from the company's longstanding policy of never releasing the programs individually.
But rising arguments by many users and industry insiders that the current browser has become a security risk because of the ease with which hackers have been able to manipulate it, is not the only reason for Microsoft's preemptive release of IE7. Many suspect that recent developments by Yahoo, Google and even Amazon have caused the software giant to make an offensive move in what seems to be a head-to-head battle among the Internet big wigs to dominate the online market.
Let's look at the beginning of this year. Internet retail giant Amazon launched its local search service on A9.com (local business search with street-level photographs from 10 major U.S. cities). Practically the next day, Yahoo announced its launch of a new search service that allows users to send text message listings of businesses and restaurants straight to their mobile phones.
The following Monday, MSN – which previously had to rely on Yahoo's technology to run its search service – announced its launch of a newly revamped search engine run completely on its own technology. And more recently, Google announced the launch of an updated version of the Google Toolbar and a beta version of Google Maps. Not to mention, perennial underdog Ask Jeeves purchased BlogLines to make its own splash.
With the Internet now playing an integral role in our everyday lives, from finding love to paying bills with the click of a mouse, it's no wonder that Internet gatekeepers are in such hot competition to gain and keep consumers' attention. And with rising concerns that terrorists are taking advantage of unsafe browsers to store information on personal computers, the battle to see who can best placate and protect online users is more fierce than ever.
Mozilla's FireFox seems to be more than willing to take on the challenge, swiftly gaining popularity and market shares over the current IE. If there is one benefit of this high-tech cold war, it is that its ultimate goal is to determine who can best serve consumers. And in the long run that means more user-friendly programs and features for users. At the rate things are going, the question will soon be, “How far are they willing to go to prove who's the best?