The browser isn't everything when it comes to Microsoft's platform strategy for next-generation Web applications, but it remains key, Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates made clear Monday at MIX 06.MIX 06,Microsoft made a mistake in waiting to build innovations into its own browser technology, Internet Explorer, he admitted."In a sense we're doing a 'mea culpa' in saying we've waited too long for a new browser release," Gates said during his talk to kick off Microsoft's first show for designers and developers of high-impact Web sites. "We are very immersed in the browser as a platform."Microsoft's lackluster attention to the browser allowed competitors like Firefox, Mozilla and Opera to challenge Explorer's dominance in the browser space.Now Microsoft is answering that challenge, Gates said. The company is building innovations into Explorer to improve the user experience, as well as in security and next-generation technologies such as RSS, he said. Microsoft already is looking ahead to the next two releases of Explorer, and expects Version 7 to be broadly adopted once it is released later this year.Version 7 will be included in the Windows Vista OS, which is expected to\u00a0ship later this year. Microsoft will offer an Explorer\u00a0version for Windows XP at the same time.As expected, Gates announced a new test version of Explorer 7 at MIX 06, which drew a solid attendance for a first-ever show.Attendees, the bulk of them Web designers and developers, said Microsoft is wooing creative Web design firms hard to establish credibility among this sector, which traditionally has favored a combination of Adobe Systems and Macromedia software and Apple hardware to build Web sites and applications.One Web designer from Washington, who asked not to be identified, said Microsoft is courting his company and even paid for him and his colleagues to attend the show. Microsoft also is dangling big-name customers in front of the Web design shop as an attempt to lure them to use its tools and platforms, including the forthcoming Microsoft Expression set of design tools that competes with Adobe software.MIX 06 attendee Lynn Langit, founder and lead architect for her own company WebFluent, said Microsoft in part is using its renewed focus on Explorer to "establish its dominance on the Web." She said she was particularly impressed with the Explorer 7\u00a0compatibility lab at MIX 06, where developers can test their Web sites to see how they will perform in Explorer 7.The browser wasn't the only focus of Gates' talk. He spoke of going "beyond the browser" with tools for providing Web-connected applications on numerous devices, like the new Windows-based ultramobile PCs. Microsoft and partners unveiled the devices, code-named Origami, at Cebit earlier this month."We can't be device-centric -- we have to be user-centric," Gates said. To do this, Microsoft is poised to offer an easy-to-use platform with tools and within Vista for developers to build next-generation Web applications.