As promised, Microsoft has shipped a new build of Internet Explorer 10 for Windows 7, bringing the "fast and fluid" web experience of its latest web browser to the earlier version of its OS ... almost.
A production-ready version of IE10 has come bundled with Windows 8 since it began shipping in October, and with Windows Server 2012 since September. The Windows 7 version, on the other hand, is still considered a "preview."
Just what makes it a preview and not a release, Microsoft hasn't said. In an effusive post to the Internet Explorer blog, group program manager Rob Mauceri gushes about the exciting features and fast performance of the new browser, but he stops short of saying whether it's likely to crash or if some of its features are still half-baked.
Mauceri concludes his post by saying, "We look forward to continued engagement with the developer community," so presumably this build of IE10 will mainly be of interest to web developers who want to use it to test their apps. Anyone can download it free of charge, though, so knock yourself out – bearing in mind that the usual beta-test rules apply.
Once installed, the IE10 preview replaces IE9, just as earlier Internet Explorer updates have done, but it doesn't actually delete it; uninstall IE10 and the system reverts to the older version after a reboot.
Whether you'll want to try it depends largely on how you feel about Internet Explorer. On the whole, what you get with the IE10 preview for Windows 7 is pretty close to what you get with IE10 on Windows 8 – in both good ways and bad.
For example, some users might be dismayed that the scroll bars in the new browser look more like the blocky ones from Windows 8 than like native Windows 7 widgets. IE10 on Windows 7 also sends the Do Not Track signal by default, just like it does on Windows 8 – a move that has been widely criticized by advertisers, developers, and web standards organizations.
In Microsoft's own tests, IE10 running on a 64-bit Windows 7 machine outperformed recent versions of Chrome and Firefox by significant margins – but then, we all know how Microsoft feels about browser benchmarks.
While IE10 for Windows 7 is comparable to its Windows 8 cousin in most respects, however, it differs in some ways, too. Most notably, it does not bundle an embedded version of the Adobe Flash Player, as IE10 for Windows 8 does. Instead, it relies on Adobe's standalone plugin to display Flash content, just like other Windows 7 browsers. That means its Flash security fixes don't come from Windows Update like they do on Windows 8, either.
IE10 also doesn't go as all-out for touch on Windows 7 as it does on Windows 8. It does support multi-touch gestures, but there's no mode equivalent to the touch-friendly version of IE10 for Windows 8's Start Screen – though admittedly, most users who plan to stick with Windows 7 will count that as a blessing.
Microsoft has not offered a ship date for final version of IE10 for Windows 7 or even suggested a timeline, saying only that it plans to continue gathering developer and customer feedback.
One thing is certain, though: If you're not even running Windows 7 yet, you can forget about IE10. Once the final Windows 7 version is released – whenever it's realeased – Microsoft has no plans to port the new browser to any earlier versions of its OS. ®