SAN FRANCISCO — Microsoft will release a new version of its Internet Explorer browser with improved security features, Bill Gates announced Tuesday. Speaking at a security conference in San Francisco, the Microsoft chairman also confirmed that a new anti-spyware product, currently being offered for free in test versions, would be free in its final release as well.
“We have decided to do a new version of Internet Explorer, this is IE 7,” Gates said at the RSA Security Conference.
Microsoft had not previously indicated whether it planned to release a new version of IE. Long the dominant browser in the market, IE has recently seen some of its market share chipped away by open-source rival Firefox, which, like IE, is offered for free.
The new version of IE, which will be released for preliminary testing this summer, will have new protections against viruses, spyware and phishing scams, which fool users into entering sensitive information on Web pages that appear to be legitimate. The update would be available only to users of the latest version of Windows — XP with last summer’s Service Pack 2 upgrade, which also came with security improvements to IE 6.
The company did not mention any non-security improvements such as tabbing or other features available in Firefox and other rival browsers such as Opera and Safari.
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Gates said security remains the biggest threat to the "fantastic advances” happening in the world of technology, and that Microsoft was spending more than a third of its annual $6 billion in research and development spending on security.
The move comes three years after Microsoft, the world’s biggest software company, launched a major initiative to improve the reliability and security of its software, which runs on about 90 percent of all personal computers.
Analysts have said that tech-savvy users are switching to Firefox because it offers better security as well as some features that are not available on IE.
According to Web statistics tracking firm WebSideStory Inc., nearly 5 percent of Web surfers now use Firefox. Internet Explorer held a 90.3-percent share of U.S. browser usage at the middle of January, compared with a 95.5-percent share in mid-2004.
Anti-spyware tool to be free
Microsoft is also gearing up its other security efforts, and last month began offering a preliminary version of its free anti-spyware software, which prevents malicious programs from snooping for data on computers and recording a user’s keystrokes.
Tuesday's announcement was the first time that Microsoft had confirmed the final release would also be free.
The software runs on Microsoft’s Windows, which as the world’s dominant operating system has been the primary target of spyware and related programs. Later versions of spyware programs have also taken advantage of known Windows flaws to sneak onto machines.
“Spyware ... is something we need to nip now,” Gates said. “We made the decision that all of our Windows licensees should have that (anti-spyware) capability. I’m excited we got this technology and it addresses a burning need for our users.”
Gates’ remarks suggest users will have to confirm they’re running a licensed copy of Windows before installing the final release of the anti-spyware program.
Gates also announced Microsoft will have by year’s end a product to combat viruses and worms, though he offered no details, including whether a version of the software will be free.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this story.