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Gates Offers Mea Culpa For Internet Explorer Development Lag

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates opened the company's Mix06 Web developer conference with an apology for the eons that have passed since Microsoft last updated Internet Explorer.

"In a sense we're doing a mea culpa and saying we waited too long for a browser release," Gates said in his opening keynote. "We'll be able to cycle the browser much faster than a typical Windows release cycle. We're already working on the next two releases. We'll move quickly because we see great opportunities there."

Microsoft's Internet Explorer chief, Dean Hachamovitch, echoed the sentiment when he took the stage. "We messed up," he said. "As committed as we are to the browser, we just didn't do a good job demonstrating that."

To underscore its atonement, Microsoft released its second beta version of Internet Explorer 7 ( IE 7 ) on Monday. The new beta was one of a blizzard of technologies previewed at Mix06, where Microsoft showed off its crowded pipeline of forthcoming Web development tools. IE 7 is slated for release in the second half of the year, which is also when a number of Vista-linked technologies like the Windows Presentation Foundation display engine will go live.

Partners at the show say they expect Microsoft's array of rich-client advances to aid their development work. Retail-focused Web developer Fluid is kicking the tires of Atlas and looking forward to IE 7, said Chief Experience Officer Andrew Sirotnik. He's anticipating a wave of Web innovation as companies stop fretting about cross-browser interoperability and start taking advantage of new technologies.

"In the past, it has always been about compatibility over everything else," Sirotnik said. "What you're seeing now is retailers have satisfied the basics. Consumers can find them, their retail sites work. Now they're focusing on innovation as a brand differentiator."

Building on Microsoft's technology stack has been a competitive advantage for San Francisco-based Fluid. Sirotnik points to an in-store kiosks project Fluid is working on for outdoor gear retailer The North Face, for which Fluid is using Windows Presentation Framework. "Especially with larger companies, their IT groups are very familiar with working with Microsoft," he said. "It was a much more straightforward discussion because we're using Microsoft technology."

Still, the proprietary approach Microsoft favors carries risks -- like irking the Web development and design audience Microsoft wants to cultivate. Part of Mix06's opening keynote spotlighted MySpace, a massively popular Web community and blogging site. With 65 million registered members and 23 billion page views served in February, MySpace is a case study in the scalability Microsoft's infrastructure offers. But the site doesn't embrace the open architecture needed to enable mashups and other hacks Web developers like. A heckler drove that home during MySpace's demo. As CTO Aber Whitcomb wrapped up his presentation, an audience member called out, "Give us some open APIs, please!"

With all the glitzy new technology on display at Mix06, it seems that what Web developers still want most is open access.

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