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What the…? This doesn’t sound too good. Microsoft are planning to stop making a standalone browser after Internet Explorer 6 SP1. IE6 was released back in 2000, and has rather a lot to do in terms of standards and other such things. Basically it is quickly becoming a Netscape 4, and will be the browser holding back the improving standards of the web for many years to come, by the looks of things. Most XP users will probably stay with IE6 for ever, and will not switch to Mozilla or Opera. The next version of Windows, Longhorn, will be the first place to get an updated IE. That means that IE6 is going to be with us for at least two years as Longhorn isn’t sceduled for release until 2005. Even then most users will not upgrade, so IE6 will be with us for a very long time yet.
For both web users and designers, this is going to be a thorn in the side for a long time to come. Users may not notice, but having to continually design for IE6 is going to severly hold back the development of much improved websites, in terms of features and ease of use. Full standards support of CSS across browsers would pave the way for amazing changes to the way websites are designed. Faster rendering, faster downloads, more interesting layouts and many more benifits may be hampered by Microsoft's short sited vision.
Look at how far the web has come in the past few years. We could move on as Netscape 4 gradually lost market share. IE fading from the web is much less likely to happen with IE due to it being bundled with the OS. Microsoft, for this alone, you suck.
AOL recently, when it comes down to it, caved in to MS and settled their lawsuit against them. For a small chunk of cash (in regard to MSs huge reserves) they sold out. IE will be AOL's browser for the next 8 years. If there is no standalone version of IE produced, does this mean that AOL users will have IE6 for 8 years? With the market share AOL has, this would be dire. IE6 in 2010...
AOL also own Netscape. Does their IE deal mean that they will stop with Netscape's browser production? What will the Mozilla browser do without the help of Netscape? Though it is open source and has a lot of very talented people working on it, Netscape provide a huge amount of help to the project. Without Netscape, Mozilla may be in trouble. That would be at least as bad as IE6s use for the foreseeable future. Without an excellent alternative in the form of Mozilla (many people just won't buy Opera), IE's market share increases still further and we are even more stuck in the mire we find ourselves in.
Hopefully things will be nowhere near this bad, but then again, they might be...
As usual, [Zeldman](http://www.zeldman.com/daily/0503c.shtml#cnet) says it better than I could.