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In a complete about-face, Microsoft Corp. has decided to deliver a new, standalone version of its Internet Explorer browser in order to stem potential customer defections due to security and feature concerns.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates announced at the RSA Conference in San Francisco on Tuesday that Microsoft will deliver Internet Explorer 7.0 for Windows XP Service Pack 2 customers. The 7.0 release, which will go to beta this summer, will add new anti-phishing, anti-spyware and anti-virus safeguards, according to company officials. Microsoft officials did not offer a target release date for the final IE 7.0.

On Microsoft’s IE group blog, company officials acknowledged they had received some requests for an IE refresh for older versions of Windows, including Windows 2000. The response?

“Right now, we’re focused on XP SP2. We’re actively listening to our major Windows 2000 customers about what they want and comparing that to the engineering and logistical complexity of that work,” wrote Dean Hachamovitch, the head of the IE team.

Hachamovitch added that Microsoft is now discussing its plans for an IE 7.0 release “because our customers and partners have asked us, with increasing urgency, what our plans are. We want to convey our intentions to our customers and partners clearly and in a timely way. “

Gates told keynote attendees that the company plans to launch a first beta of its Microsoft Update patching service in March. Microsoft Update is the successor to Windows Update, and will allow users to patch not only Windows, but also Office 2003 and Exchange Server 2003.

Read the full story on Microsoft Watch: Microsoft Changes Course: New Standalone IE for XP Planned

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