Microsoft Corp. postponed the introduction of the next test release of its Internet Explorer 7 Web browser until sometime in 2006, according to comments posted to the company's site for software developers.

In a blog posting on the software giant's MSDN developer site, Dean Hachamovitch, product line manager for IE at Microsoft, said that the Redmond, Wash.-based company will post an "updated pre-release build of IE 7 for Windows XP publicly" during the first calendar quarter of 2006.

The IE team leader indicated that people interested in gaining access to the browser preview would not need to be members of the MSDN community.

The MSDN report contradicts statements made by Microsoft earlier this year that it planned to get the next pre-release of IE 7 into developers' hands before the end of 2005. The initial preview version of the software was launched in July.

Hachamovitch indicated that Microsoft still plans to distribute the IE 7 prototype to ensure that developers and other users don't find any unwanted surprises in the product before it is finalized. He also said that the company has received a number of requests for such a sample.

"We want to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to try a pre-release version of IE 7 and tell us how it works with their Web sites, their applications, their add-ons, and how they use the Web overall," Hachamovitch wrote.

Hachamovitch also indicated that there had been a large number of requests for such a release. Microsoft representatives disputed that the company had promised a pre-release version of IE 7 for Windows XP before the end of 2005 and said that the version is being created specifically to address developer requests to have many of the features added to other test versions of IE 7 added to the XP iteration.

One of the most likely reasons for pushing back the introduction of IE 7 may be that Microsoft is still working to integrate the browser with its next-generation operating system software, Windows Vista, as the two products will undoubtedly be tied closely together.

Microsoft had promised to deliver a second beta version of the OS before the end of 2005, but has now said that such a release would not arrive until sometime early next year.

The company also ended distribution of its monthly previews of Vista in November, despite planning a December release that is expected to go to testers sometime before Christmas.

A final version of Vista is slated to reach the market before the end of 2006.

In the comments posted to the Hachamovitch blog, Microsoft workers confirmed that the upcoming pre-release of IE 7 will contain the "bulk of changes" being made to the software's Trident rendering engine, but indicated that there may still be more updates added to the feature.

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