Two years ago, Microsoft used the Bill Gates keynote at its MIX conference as the launch pad for Internet Explorer (IE) 7.0, which shipped last year. However, this year at MIX07, news of the next IE version, which Microsoft has confirmed is in development, was not to be had. Instead, the software giant used the show to focus on its new cross-platform browser plug-in Silverlight, which will be rapidly enhanced over the coming months with interesting new developer features. But what's going on with IE 8.0?

During a session at the show, IE platform architect Chris Wilson implied that Microsoft was delaying the next IE version somewhat. Microsoft had previously spoken of a 12- to 18-month release cycle for IE 8.0, a dramatic improvement over the five-year wait between IE 6.0 and IE 7.0. But at MIX07, Wilson said IE 8.0 would likely ship closer to two years after IE 7.0, which launched in October 2006.

Microsoft is also being vague about what features it will incorporate into IE 8.0. The company was conspicuously silent about the product at MIX out of a desire to not upstage Silverlight, according to my sources. Previously, the company had noted that it would be working on better compatibility with Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) standards and other Web technologies in IE 8.0.

The problem is that the Web development community is still a bit touchy after IE's five years of stagnation between IE 6.0 and IE 7.0, a time during which rival browsers from Mozilla and Apple added gobs of new features and seized market share. IE 7.0, in many ways, was simply a chance for Microsoft to catch up from a functional perspective. And while IE still controls the market, Web developers often have to ensure that their sites and applications work with Mozilla Firefox as well. Now, they're asking Microsoft for a little guidance about what to expect in the next IE version so they can prepare for the future.

It's a valid question, and one that Microsoft should address as soon as possible. In fact, it seems like the type of thing that the company could have addressed at its annual Web conference.