Microsoft plans to release a new Internet browser with security improvements later this year, Chairman Bill Gates announced today. Gates said Internet Explorer 7 was...

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SAN FRANCISCO — Microsoft plans to release a new Internet browser with security improvements later this year, Chairman Bill Gates announced today.

Gates said Internet Explorer 7 was going to be part of the next version of Windows coming in 2006, but the company decided to release it separately. Among its improvements will be better protection against phishing attacks that can trick users into providing personal information.

Gates made the announcement at the RSA Conference, a meeting of leading computer security experts.

The new browser will be available to people using Windows XP and have Service Pack 2 installed. Released last year, the service pack contained primarily added security protection for XP users. It followed a period of high-profile attacks by worm and virus writers on Microsoft software.

Internet Explorer, by far the dominant browser in use today, has seen its market share slip a bit after the introduction of Firefox, a browser from the Mozilla Foundation that has grown increasingly popular.

Gates also said Microsoft intends to make anti-spyware software available free to users by the end of the year. The company recently issued a test version of the software, which is designed to fight spyware, adware and other hidden programs that seek to track computer users.

The problem is “something we’ve got to nip before it gets worse than today,” he said. The company, he added, that “all of our Windows licensees should have (anti-spyware) capability.”

Not all the new products will be free, though. Gates said the company intends to put its antivirus technology into a new consumer security product that will be available by the end of the year.

He provided no other details of the product, but the announcement confirmed suspicions that Microsoft will enter the competitive business.

Brier Dudley: 206-515-5687 or bdudley@seattletimes.com.