Microsoft last week quietly revealed that it has delayed the final release of its next Web browser, Internet Explorer (IE) 8, from late 2008 to early 2009. The delay was made to address a much wider than expected range of issues discovered in the product's Beta 2 release.

"We will release one more public update of IE 8 in the first quarter of 2009, and then follow that up with the final release," IE general manager Dean Hachamovitch wrote in a posting to Microsoft's IEBlog last week. "Our next public release of IE (typically called a "release candidate") indicates the end of the beta period. We want the technical community of people and organizations interested in Web browsers to take this update as a strong signal that IE 8 is effectively complete and done."

Microsoft had previously promised to ship the final version of IE 8 by the end of 2008. That declaration was made by Microsoft senior vice president Bill Veghte at the company's Financial Analyst Meeting in July. Separately, members of the IE team have told me that Microsoft would ship IE 8 only when it's ready.

The software giant is now eliciting criticisms and other feedback from people who are interested in changing any of the browser's functionality. As Hachamovitch notes in the aforementioned blog post, the company will be very selective about changes made after the early 2008 release candidate, so the time for feedback is now.

Microsoft shipped IE 8 Beta 2 in August, providing a first look at what the company described as a feature-complete version of the product. In my testing, one of the browser's most-often-touted features, its standards-compliant render engine, has been the source of numerous Web site compatibility issues. My guess is that these types of issues are behind Microsoft's decision to issue another public pre-release version of IE 8.