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April 21, 2005

IE May Get Tabs Before Summer



Courtesy of TechWeb.com

Windows enthusiast site Neowin.net on Thursday claimed that Microsoft's MSN group is working on a new toolbar that will add tabs to Internet Explorer, an idea one analyst thinks could boost the whole browser-as-money-maker idea.

"MSN is currently developing a next-generation version of their popular MSN Toolbar Suite," said the Neowin site in a brief item. The updated version, Neowin claimed, would give current versions of Internet Explorer the ability to display multiple pages in one frame, organized by tabs, much as Mozilla's Firefox browser now offers.

Although Microsoft has committed to adding tabs to IE, it's said that the feature will only appear in IE 7.0, a security-enhanced version due to beta this summer. IE 7.0 is to work only in Windows XP SP2, according to comments Microsoft has made previously.

Neowin displayed a small screenshot it said was of the under-development toolbar, which shows two open tabs.

MSN's Toolbar Suite released in December, 2004, put Microsoft into the desktop search race with the likes of Google and Yahoo, which had both moved on the technology. Prior to that, the toolbar had offered pop-up ad blocking. It's unclear when the next version of will appear.

All a Microsoft spokesperson would say was that a final version of the Toolbar would be available "shortly."

"We're working on a number of cool features for our MSN Toolbar and currently we're testing a variety. It's too early to confirm the exact feature set of our final version, but we're pleased with the interest and excitement we're seeing," she said.

Although a tab addition to the Toolbar wouldn't be the same as the integrated tabs found within alternate browsers, such as Firefox, and Safari, at least one Microsoft watcher thinks that the Redmond, Wash.-based developer would be smart to jump on the idea.

"I wouldn't be surprised to see MSN bring out new functionality for Internet Explorer ahead of any official update [to v. 7.0]," said Joe Wilcox, an analyst with JupiterResearch. Wilcox noted that when MSN Toolbar first shipped in January, 2004, it included a pop-up ad blocker, a feature that didn't make it into IE itself until the version 6.0 included with Windows XP SP2 in August.

Wilcox also said that adding tabs, even in a separate toolbar, would benefit MSN's efforts to turn a dollar, and Microsoft's efforts to make the for-free browser a profit center.

"MSN could generate revenue off of multiple home pages opened with tabs," said Wilcox, by exploring marketing opportunities with third parties or for additional paid ad or paid search placements. "An MSN toolbar could occasionally turn on a promotional tab home page, with some revenue opportunity attached: Xbox and MTV, Star Wars, or artist site, say, promoting a new Black Eyed Peas, Green Day, or Gwen Stefani album/tour," he said.

"Or MSN could prompt people to open up a new tab based on interests they've shown in the past."

Tabs would tie nicely with the idea that search is the future of browser revenue, Wilcox added, by automatically displaying MSN Search along with the standard home page.

Nor is there any reason why other firms couldn't get in on the action, too. Google or Yahoo, for instance, could update their existing toolbars for IE to include tabs.

"If you're Yahoo, why try to cram a lot of information on one page when you can open several at once? One could be Yahoo Shopping, for instance, another Yahoo News, and a third Yahoo Search. And users of My Yahoo could customize the portal with true tabs. Why have one customized page when you can have several?"

Google could use the same techniques to automatically open pages to its search, its Gmail Web-based mail service, and its Blogger blogging host.

The bottom line, said Wilcox: Greater advertising and page search opportunities.

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