Browser Showdown At The Churchill Club; IE 8 Release Candidate Coming This Month

Representatives from Microsoft (Dean Hachamovitch), Opera (Christen Krogh), Mozilla (Mike Shaver) and Google (Sundar Pichal) met at the Churchill Club in Silicon Valley tonight for a panel called “Browsers are Hot Again!”, moderated by Businessweek columnist Steve Wildstrom.

The event is timely. There has never been such robust competition in the browser space. Google recently brought Chrome out of beta, and Microsoft’s GM of Internet Explorer Dean Hachamovitch told me earlier today that the Release Candidate of Internet Explorer 8 would be released in the next two weeks.

Notably absent from the panel was Apple, although their Safari browser was brought up repeatedly as an important mobile platform, and Safari’s underlying Webkit javascript engine was also praised as innovative.

Most of the panel discussion focused on the browser ecosystem, including add-ons, standards compliance and security. The panelists noted that web developers have a harder time today than a few years ago because they have to build for more than one browser. But as Firefox and others have gained market share, competition has sped feature advances, accelerating the development and evolution of javascript and other languages and standards. Krogh from Opera noted that the next big battleground is mobile.

An audience question asked each of the panelists to describe the essence of each browser. The responses were varied. Microsoft’s Hachamovitch said his team starts with looking at what the user wants and building from there (and pointed to IE 8’s impressive feature list). Krogh from Opera said they wanted to supply a standards compliant browser for literally any Internet connected device. Google’s Pichal said speed (of javascript) was their primary goal (Hachamovitch then dubbed him “Mr. Speed” in a later comment). Mozilla’s Shaver said Firefox was about “putting the web first,” and creating a standards-compliant browser in as many languages as possible to ensure that no one was left out of the Internet.

Hachmovitch also confirmed that Microsoft has no current plans to build Linux or Mac versions of Internet Explorer. Google’s Pichal confirmed that Chrome for Mac was coming “very soon.”