Sunday, 1 February 2009

Internet Explorer - Why do they still bother

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?


DE said...

My experience is that the bare Browser totally fails to replace a good client. Tweetdeck and the other air clients for Twitter are my current favourite examples.

Chrome tries hard to control run away flash/javasrcipt and is perhaps a way forward for stability.

But I can only hope the current fad for client rich computing via the web does not last too long. FF and its dodgy plugins are a dead end. They are probably responsible for holding back the Semantic Web all by themselves.

Dave said...


Render text, img and video. Thats it.
I wish the web-devolved §:-X

h3 said...

Killing IE ? What a lovely idea, the web would be way better without it.

And if it ever happens I predict a sharp drop in web designers burnouts and depressions occurrences.

While I don't see this happening anytime soon, they could *at least* stop spreading the cancer;

Anonymous said...

Firegox doesn't integrate with IME properly and I need Japanese support, so yes, still on IE.

Anonymous said...

I also design websites on my ibook and when I view them on my winbook, they look clunky, large, and plain ugly.

Windows is just a nasty platform.

If MS wants to do somthing right, just leave the browsers to everyone else, except Opera, Opera on the Mac just plain sucks.

B said...

Like it or not, there is tons of legacy html/javascript that requires IE, especially on large corporate intranets. Even if the code isn't really legacy, there is the fact that IE has integrated and seamless NTLM and kerberos authentication built-in - This is completely off the radar of anyone outside corporate development, but the need certainly exists.

Even disregarding that, more competition results in better products from everybody. IE is now playing catch-up, but if you've used IE 8 you will notice it has innovated in little ways where other browsers will likely follow suit.

Microsoft is not a stupid company by any means, and they are making attempts to be standards compliant as well as better in the performance arena. If IE8 actually manages to be a decent browser in that regard, the fact that it comes preloaded on Windows will keep a lot of people using it.

Tim Stevens said...

I understand the legacy code issue. I've written some of those apps. So leave the IE team in maintenance mode so as not to kill those things, and keep MSFT's important enterprise customers happy.

I understand streamlined Windows Authentication/NTLM - I've deployed it. How hard would it be to port that to Firefox?

B said...

Firefox already has NTLM authentication, but it's not quite as seamless (for example, Firefox doesn't automatically pull the credentials of the currently logged in user, they must be entered manually).

Strictly for the sake of discussion, say MS did fork Firefox for this purpose. A lot of people in the OSS crowd would be extremely unhappy. They would pollute the code base with a bunch of Windows specific code that would not improve the original code base. Then Microsoft would have an immediate and significant market share thanks to Windows distribution. Once there is no viable reason for people to use Firefox over Microsoft's fork, then begins phase 3 of the 'Embrace, Extend, Extinguish' motto.

As an aside, Chrome would be a far better browser for Microsoft to fork for this purpose, since it has the 'process per tab' philosophy implemented in IE8, and also the fact that it is more Windows specific.

Regardless, this will never happen. IE8 finally reaches an acceptable level of performance and standards-compliance, so to throw that all way would be ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

I don't see a reason to ditch IE. MS isn't stupid believe it or not. There is a reason it is there.

I use IE, FF and Chrome. I don't see FF loading quicker on my machine and it feels slower to me than IE. I do use FF for it's web development tools.

I can't even believe you would mention that joke Safari in the same breath as IE or FF. Safari? Really?

I don't think IE is going anywhere so you might as well learn to play nicely with it because the majority of users are still IE users.

Tim Stevens said...

So any of you who are saying IE is worth doing for MSFT.

Please explain to me how it brings in revenue, or how it is a platform play.

Why do they still need to build it? What competitive advantage does it bring them? Is "winning the browser war" still important?

I just don't think it matters enough anymore.

LockSmithDon said...

Another reason I can see Microsoft NOT dropping IE is from a pure "internet credibility" standpoint. I realize there shouldn't really be a correlation, but halting innovation in IE could be viewed as pulling back from the 'net as a platform. That's pretty counter to how they view opportunities with Azure.

DE said...

Even Cringley thinks MS should keep IE:

"IE – Microsoft needs to offer a free web browser, despite the antitrust headaches this causes for the company in Europe"

Tim Stevens

Tim Stevens
Be Silent