Late last Friday, the European Competition Commission revealed that they are assessing a new Microsoft offer to resolve their browser competition complaint. Instead of Microsoft’s earlier plan to ship no Web browser at all with Windows 7 in the EU, Microsoft has offered to provide EU users of Windows XP and Vista as well as Windows 7 with a "ballot screen" with download links for the 5 most popular alternative browsers.
There are more details in the attachments to the Microsoft press release describing the proposal, but the basic idea is to provide current and easy download and installation links for the Web illiterate who can’t manage to find them on their own. Congratulations to Microsoft for trying to sidestep the black hole of actually shipping third party code. The EU seems to have a much more positive view of this proposal than the "no browser" plan, so Microsoft may actually get away with it.
In case you wondering, Microsoft’s "no browser in EU versions of Windows 7" plan is still the plan of record until the European Commission accepts this new offer.
Getting far less press, but also significant was that Microsoft is also offering more interoperability information for its software including Windows, Windows Server, Office, Exchange, and SharePoint. That is spelled out in the attachments to the press release too and takes two forms:
The latter is apparently intended to address the second part of Opera’s original EU browser complaint that Internet Explorer was noncompliant with Web standards. It will be interesting to see whether this part of Microsoft’s offer will satisfy the Eurocrats, but I would bet that documentation of noncompliance will not be enough.
I also wonder whether "trustbusters" in the USA and elsewhere outside Europe might not also want to jump on the bandwagon and ask for the same terms as whatever settlement is reached in Europe.
Microsoft today announced the availability of Service Pack 2 for Office 2007. What’s in it for Office 2007 users?
Users should notice the improved performance and stability of Outlook, better charting functionality in Excel, and more control over the appearance of SmartArt graphics.
On the server side, IT professionals will notice several enhancements to the security and performance of SharePoint Server 2007, including support for read-only content databases, improvements to forms-based authentication, and an STSADM command-line utility that enables administrators to scan sites that use the variations feature for errors. SharePoint Server will also feature better support for newer versions of the Firefox browser.
Also, having a wider array of file-format choices should really benefit customers. With SP2, Office 2007 now has built-in support for Open XML, ODF and PDF, along with the dozen or so other formats that were already supported in Office 2007.
Office 2007 users can download SP2 right away or wait for it via Microsoft Update where it will appear "no sooner than three months from now, and with at least 30 days notice."
Microsoft today released Internet Explorer 8 (IE8):
Today Microsoft Corp. announced the availability of Windows Internet Explorer 8, the new Web browser that offers the best solution for how people use the Web today. It can be downloaded in 25 languages at http://www.microsoft.com/ie8 starting at noon EDT on March 19. Internet Explorer 8 is easier to use, faster and offers leading-edge security features in direct response to people’s increasing concerns about online safety.
I have largely abandoned Internet Explorer in favor of Firefox and Chrome except for checking my websites to see how they render in IE because it still holds 70% of the browser market. The primary problem with IE7 was that it was a lumbering behemoth and the early reviews indicate that while IE8 is better, it is still not competitive:
But, in my tests, IE8 wasn’t as fast as Firefox, or two other notable browsers — the Windows version of Apple’s (AAPL) new Safari 4 and Google’s (GOOG) Chrome. IE8 loaded a variety of pages I tested more slowly than any of the other browsers, and it grew sluggish when juggling a large number of Web pages opened simultaneously in tabs.
Firefox also has a vibrant community of 3rd party add-ons which Internet Explorer lacks.
As for the Web site rendering, I am sure that there will be complaints about IE8 standards compliance, but the biggest immediate problem will likely be the Web sites coded to take advantage of past Internet Explorer peculiarities. To ease the withdrawal pains Microsoft has implemented a "IE7 compatibility mode" in IE8 which is triggered in various ways:
Try explaining that to your aged relatives. In the end, IE8 standards mode is just another browser that Web developers have to code and test for and it will happen eventually with hope springing eternal that it isn’t too much different than supporting Firefox.
So what’s the net? Internet Explorer 8 is a better browser than IE7 which is good news, but it isn’t a world beater.
Microsoft has given up on the third party translator route to support the Open Document Format (ODF) for office documents that is so beloved by governments and open standards advocates. Office 2007 SP2 scheduled for 1H2009 is now slated to have built-in support for ODF:
The 2007 Microsoft Office system already provides support for 20 different document formats within Microsoft Office Word, Office Excel and Office PowerPoint. With the release of Microsoft Office 2007 Service Pack 2 (SP2) scheduled for the first half of 2009, the list will grow to include support for XML Paper Specification (XPS), Portable Document Format (PDF) 1.5, PDF/A and Open Document Format (ODF) v1.1.
When using SP2, customers will be able to open, edit and save documents using ODF and save documents into the XPS and PDF fixed formats from directly within the application without having to install any other code. It will also allow customers to set ODF as the default file format for Office 2007. To also provide ODF support for users of earlier versions of Microsoft Office (Office XP and Office 2003), Microsoft will continue to collaborate with the open source community in the ongoing development of the Open XML-ODF translator project on SourceForge.net.
In addition, Microsoft has defined a road map for its implementation of the newly ratified International Standard ISO/IEC 29500 (Office Open XML). IS29500, which was approved by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) in March, is already substantially supported in Office 2007, and the company plans to update that support in the next major version release of the Microsoft Office system, code-named “Office 14.”
Open Office XML (OOXML) which was approved as an ISO standard in April, is almost but not quite the native document format of Office 2007, so some touch-up is required.