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IE 7 to take a cue from Firefox

Microsoft confirms next version of IE will include tabbed browsing, a feature made popular by Opera and Firefox users.

Microsoft has confirmed that its upcoming version of Internet Explorer will include tabbed browsing, a feature made popular by competitors Opera Software and Firefox.

In a Microsoft blog, IE product unit manager Dean Hachamovitch told consumers not to expect too much from tabbed browsing in IE's beta offering.

"The tabbed browsing experience in the upcoming IE 7 beta is pretty basic," he said. "The main goal for tabs in our beta release is to make sure our implementation delivers on compatibility and security. The variety of IE configurations and add-ins across the Internet is tremendous."

Hachamovitch said his team would seek feedback to help iron out bugs in the feature. "We've also looked closely at reported vulnerabilities in other implementations of tabbed browsing," he said.

The IE executive also explained the motivation behind keeping the feature--which has been available for some years in competing products--out of IE until now.

"Some people have asked why we didn't put tabs in IE sooner," he said. "Initially, we had some concerns around complexity and consistency--will it confuse users more than it benefits them? Is it confusing if IE has tabs, but other core parts of the Windows experience, like Windows Media Player or the shell, don't have tabs?"

Hachamovitch admitted he thinks his company made the wrong decision on tabs--a decision he is happy to reverse.

But the reversal is not good enough for at least one Firefox developer. The open-source browser's release manager and quality assurance lead, Asa Dotzler, posted a response on his own blog to the IE 7 update.

"I suspect that this announcement could be translated to 'we decided late in the game that we needed tabs and they're nowhere near done, so don't flame us when you see them,'" Dotzler wrote.

The Firefox developer contended that Microsoft's motivation in adding the tabbed browsing feature was more related to preserving its software monopoly than providing services to its users.

"Does this mean that the IE 7 user won't benefit? No, not at all. Just because their motivation is lame doesn't mean that the resulting software will suck. But I do think that all software bears the mark of the motivation behind its creation."

"With Firefox, I think our motives are obvious to our users. People understand that we're working to make the Web better for them," he added.

Hachamovitch, however, pointed out that people have been able to use tabbed browsing with the existing version of IE for some time by using freely downloadable third-party solutions like the one provided by Maxthon.

"I think all of these are great," he said. "They demonstrate how extensible the IE platform is. They also provide tabbed browsing in IE on top of Windows versions (like Windows 98) that IE 7 will not support."

Renai LeMay of ZDNet Australia reported from Sydney.