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Internet Explorer 7, the Web and Windows
Article published on:24 March 2006, 18:53
Internet Explorer 7. What is this in essence? Is it an Opera and Firefox killer? Microsoft would like us to believe this, but I don't, even if I wanted to believe they'll bring IE to a decent level.
Almost all the CSS-based layouts look almost the same in IE 7 beta 2 as in IE 6. No big difference. I still can't drop *any* of those hacks I have in my layouts. I know they fixed *some* bugs, I know some pages render perfectly, or even better, but it's not enough. Why urge developers to drop the hacks when they are still needed?
The Internet has become the central part of computing. To me, the computer is almost useless without the Internet. When I boot I also start my favourite browser. I generally don't close it unless it crashes (which doesn't happen more than once a month or so), or I upgrade it.
The web and communication capabilities of the Internet are invaluable. Microsoft seems to get the trend, since there was some buzz around Windows Live and other Microsoft Fluffy products.
Having that in mind: why does IE 7 suck? Is it on purpose? Is it because they don't have the time to make it much better? Take your pick. I'd go for the latter option, since ... Microsoft initially didn't plan to have any updates for Internet Explorer, except updates bundled together with Windows. A huge mistake that even Bill regrets.
One thing's for sure (IMHO): if they would like a much better browser (comparable to Opera and/or Firefox) they do have to start by asking the cleaning lady to clean their hard drives where they've stored the current IE engine. They should do this without blinking and without looking back. Look at what Netscape got after they did that: Firefox :). Yes, I know, that was very stupid what Netscape Corp. did: rewriting code is a big mistake. Nonetheless ... they now have a much better product (erm, Mozilla Corp. does :) ).
Five years since IE 6, Microsoft should have had the time to do what Netscape did. But, if they did't want to screw-up like Netscape did, they could have taken on the daunting task of improving the rendering engine, every minute, every second, every night and day, sundays and saturdays too.
They didn't do so. They actually started working on IE 7 last summer or so. That's because if they would've worked on improving IE since 2001, then ... IE 7 would simply be much better than Opera and Firefox combined. Microsoft has the resources to do that, they did it with IE 4, 5 and even 6. At that time, IE was really better than Netscape 4. Microsoft really had a better product. It was even better than the Gecko engine which was in its infancy at the end of 90's and the beginning of 2000. Opera was better only as a browser (features-wise) and better at CSS rendering, but it was not coping with the tag-soup affecting the majority of web pages (hence it didn't gain much popularity).
Once all the vaporware, buzz and fuzz surrounding the release of this cutting-edge browser (IE 7), users who switched back from Opera/Firefox (IMHO quite many) will start missing the features they've got used to in the alternative browser, and probably most of them will feel disappointed by IE (after the "wow" factor dries). Plus, they'll continue seeing "too cool for IE" and similar "campaigns".
The main point of this post is actually to propose a new way of looking at Microsoft failing to deliver a good browser. It's not just on purpose (because things have changed since then and Microsoft seems to realize the importance of the Internet and the Web). It's also about the possiblity of MS losing the entire market share dominance in respect to operating systems. Will this ever happen? Yes, no doubt. The only question is "when?".
Losing the web browsers market share dominance is not that hard as some think so. It's not impossible. Lets take the example of MP3 players: Winamp versus Windows Media Player. Winamp is not integrated into Windows, but WMP is. Guess which one dominates? Everybody I know uses Winamp (including myself, actually I use Ubuntu now, but the point is I used Winamp with Windows). WMP is simply not good enough: it's slower and it's a resource hog compared to Winamp. Yes, I've tried WMP and yes, it has some nice features, but that's all.
The same can happen in the browsers world. I know it's very hard, but not impossible (nothing is impossible :) ). If browsers like Opera and Firefox start providing extremely advanced new features and capabilities that will render IE simply obsolete, out-dated, developers and corporations might actually make Opera/Firefox-only web applications (unless MS pays them enough not to do so). Users will switch, because the alternatives are better. Microsoft can't pay all companies, all developers to make IE-only sites because it cannot afford to so and it's not something anybody can do (not even Bill Gates).
Firefox is already being installed on new computers by geeks for friends and families who don't know much about computing. I also install Opera browser on all computers I have to setup and configure, I even try to remove IE shortcuts, so the user can't start it by mistake. This is the same approach used with Winamp. It's just standard procedure: stop useless services, install Opera and Winamp.
That's the first step to losing the operating systems market dominance. Why? Once users realize the benefits of alternatives, the fact alternatives are better, they are more and more interested in alternative operating systems too. That's what happend to me as well.
Browsers are probably even more important than any piece of software on any OS. If you no longer use IE, you can already make the switch easier. Many web applications also make it easier to make the switch. Does Jane use Gmail? No problem, that one works under GNU/Linux too. Does she use Firefox, Thunderbird or Opera? All function under Linux better and faster.
A good move by Microsoft would be to release IE 7 ASAP, but make it stable and with enough "wow" factor for gullible users. Then, in one year develop IE 8, which has the "wow" factor for developers too.
I don't ignore the improvements in IE 7. Quite good ones, except the interface which is worse than what IE 6 looks like. IE 6 actually has an acceptable interface.
If anything's going to be "blamed" for the fall of Windows market dominance, that's the Web. It's not Google, and no other startup nor corporation, because they'll all make use of the Internet and the Web.