This is a rant. If you're not in the mood to read a rant, please move on. There's loads more content on the interwebs for you.
A friend of mine from Microsoft (won't mention names) pinged me the other day. He was bouncing ideas of me for a talk he wants to do at Tech Ready, an MSFT internal conference, provisionally entitled cloud 4.20. Made me chuckle.
We got chatting, as you do.
And I got on to a rant. About Internet Explorer.
For many years I was a bit of a Microsoft specialist in the organisation I work in. I ran a .Net Focus Group. To some extent I evangalized use of the Microsoft Platform in the company. Now I've changed, now I plug open source software, and use it. Live and learn. The exception here is Windows - I get a PC from work, and frankly, running Windows is just simpler than installing and learning a Linux dist. I don't pay for MS software, I get a license with the machine, and I still get an MSDN subscription. Mind you, this is probably the last year for that. I'm running Windows 7 beta, and my advice to anyone running Vista would be to get hold of a copy and upgrade (I mean, of course, re-install). I've had virtually no software incompatabilities, it runs faster and quicker, and annoys me far less than Vista did. Windows 7 is an improvement. Thank the Lord.
You know what the very first thing I did when Windows 7 booted for the first time (in less than 15 minutes from whacking the disk in, I may add)?
I downloaded Firefox.
See, let's be honest, if the browser wars are still going on, then Microsoft are just so far behind. Yes, largest market penetration, blah blah blah, but we all know that's historic, and because most folk don't know better. Or they have locked down corporate PCs and have no choice, because many of their line of business apps only work in IE. (My organisation is VERY guilty of this).
Anyone who's spent much time with Firefox (or even Safari for Windows, or Chrome), is highly unlikely to go back to IE. I mean, on Windows 7 Beta, running it's un-upgradeable build of IE 8 (what's with that?), Firefox loads quicker, performs better, and overall, gives me a happier surfing experience. I can customize it to my hearts content (web devs out there - firebug - need I say more?), and the vast majority of web sites render better.
And of course if you're on a Mac, then you're never gonna install IE. Be serious.
I build web sites. I build them using Firefox. I'm mindful while I do it that I'm gonna have to change things for IE, but I probably care about that far less than I should. However I'm pretty confident that any modifications for Safari, Opera and Chrome, will be minor and straightforward, and not leave me pulling my hair out with frustration.
Which IE inevitably does. It plays with my mind. It upsets me. It has erratic behaviour, and this is NOT the place to document it. That's not the point of this rant.
The point of this rant, and the conversation I had with my Microsoft buddy, is to wonder why they still bother producing it.
Does anyone pay for it? No. Not a chance. After all, other browsers are free to use. So it's not bringing in any direct revenue for Microsoft.
Is it a platform play? Well, I'll agree that Office, along with Exchange and Sharepoint and other back-end pieces, they are a platform play. I'll agree that .Net is a platform play. The Windows OS is a platform play (though for how much longer, one has to wonder) Windows Azure is the future of platform plays, and, from what I've seen, pretty well thought out - roll on the PHP in the cloud support, depending on the price point, it might entice me. But Internet Explorer? Is that a platform play? I don't think so. How does owning the browser, which is a standard bit of software these days, how does that bring more people to the Microsoft platform? I'll tell you how. Not One Jot.
Alright, you say. What about security? Surely by owning the browser, and being able to patch it at will, and control how it hooks into the OS, surely that's important. And I may concede on security a little, albeit reluctantly.
Here's what I think Microsoft should do. They should put their hands up and say, loudly and honestly, "You know what? We're stopping IE8 development. We are not going to deploy Internet Explorer with Windows 7. We are going to have a lightweight browser called IE Lite for use in Office, and all those Web Browser controls, &c. But we are moving the IE team into maintenance mode, and redeploying the remaining staff from the IE team worth keeping to work on the Mozilla code base, WebKit and Google's V8 engine. Collaboratively. With the community. We will install an open source browser with Windows. We will make it the browser use to debug with from Visual Studio. We will stop telling everyone to put in this IE 8 compatiblity tag, and rather we will work with standards bodies, the Firefox team, Apple, Google, whoever, to make sure that the world has the most consistent, secure, extensible, and best performing browser they can have. At the same time, we will release the worlds best Web Platforms. Windows Azure. Live Mesh. Silverlight (ok, if you must). While this decision has been hard, we and our shareholders agree that it is the right thing to do. We look forward to moving the Web forward in a positive way, with greater colloboration with the rest of the world"
And do you know what? I think this would be a major win for them. Less people would turn away from Windows. Developers would scream at them less. They'd reduce some head count, as maintenance and engineering can be slimmed down. Open source fanatics would go OMFG. I can't believe it. Perhaps I should look at what else Microsoft are doing? Possibly killing IE would help push Azure. Y'never know.
They'd also get the freedom to spend more time on Service Specific Browsers (like Flock), should they have the urge.
Well, at the end of this rant, my buddy, who is a very faithful MSFT employee, kinda bought my arguments. He certainly didn't give me the impression he'd miss attempting to sing the praises of the IE beast.
What do you think? Is there even anyone who reads my posts who still uses Internet Explorer? Any other advice for the Beast of Redmond?