When Microsoft announced the release of Internet Explorer 7 beta last week, a week earlier than previously expected, developers were quick to express frustration that this was to be a closed beta, open only to paying Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) subscribers.
Though Microsoft never indicated which (if any) of its IE7 betas would be made public, many had assumed from the "open and honest" direction the company appeared to be going in as it approached this release that it would be. After all, why release a closed beta of what is effectively (if not actually) a free product?
As the developers who were entitled to the beta pored over it, some of the reasoning behind this decision became clear. For beta 1, the bulk of the changes appeared to be in the category of new user interface features, such as tabbed browsing and support for RSS feeds. Developers most likely to be affected by such changes would be those specifically using Microsoft technologies, who either use Internet Explorer's proprietary features as a platform for applications or use the browser as an embedded component within desktop apps. Such developers can reasonably be expected to pay for the support that an MSDN subscription can provide.
Nevertheless, Microsoft's release notes cited two of the most bothersome CSS bugs in IE6 as being fixed, along with support for PNG alpha channel transparency and other minor changes for which Web developers in general would certainly be able to provide valuable feedback.
These developers will likely have to wait until Beta 2 to test out these updates... and that's assuming Microsoft fulfils public expectations of a public beta this time around. So far, it has only said that Beta 2 would be released "much more broadly".
As I've outlined above, there is some reason behind the closed IE7 Beta1 release, but when the company is clearly trying to put its best foot forward with Web developers and standards groups, it is frustrating to see it continue to emphasize Internet Explorer (and by extension, the Web in general) as a platform for proprietary development.