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New Explorer Gets Tabs

Almost five years after the first tabbed browsers appeared on the market, Microsoft is finally getting in on the feature.

Early this morning, Dean Hachamovitch, IE product unit manager, announced on the IE blog that Internet Explorer 7 (IE7) will include tabbed browsing.

"Some people have asked why we didn't put tabs in IE sooner," Hachamovitch wrote on the blog. "Initially, we had some concerns around complexity and consistency. "I think we made the wrong decision here initially, and we're making the right one now," he added.

Tabbed browsing has been commonly requested by IE users. In a July 2004 online chat, Hachamovitch and his team were bombarded with questions about when and if the feature would be added.

Hachamovitch noted in his posting how even though the mainline IE browser has never included a tabbed-browsing feature, add-ons have been available from third parties that provide the functionality.

That said, Microsoft does own a patent on "Tabbed Browsing," which was granted in September. However, the patent covers the process of tabbing through a Web page in order to find links.

Tabbed browsing is a feature that has been around since the early days of the Web, though it only really began to gain traction when it appeared in Opera 4. Mozilla followed suit and incorporated the feature into its Mozilla suite and thereafter into its Firefox browser. Tabbed browsing is also part of Apple's KHTML based Safari browser.

The feature is not without its shortcomings. In October of 2004, a pair of flaws were exposed in tabbed browsing that could allow malicious sites to gain user passwords and info. Those flaws have since been patched by the respective browser vendors.

"We've also looked closely at reported vulnerabilities in other implementations of tabbed browsing," Hachamovitch wrote. "We're looking forward to feedback from the security community as well."

IE 7 is also expected to include a number of other oft-requested features. Among them is greater support for implementing CSS standards and dealing with consistency issues related to them.

"Our first and most important goal with our Cascading Style Sheet support is to remove the major inconsistencies so that Web developers have a consistent set of functionality on which they can rely," IE developer Chris Wilson wrote in a blog post.

Support for the transparent PNG image file format will also be a part of IE 7, which will bring it to parity with alternative browsers in supporting the format.

In a keynote delivered at the RSA conference in February, Bill Gates also boasted about upcoming security enhancements for IE 7 that will provide even stronger defenses against phishing, malicious software and spyware.

Tabbed browsing will appear in the first IE 7 beta, expected this summer, with a basic implementation expected by the time IE 7 is in its full release.

An upcoming version of the MSN toolbar is also expected to include support for tabbed browsing within IE.