Disclaimer: This is the second post in a series on Internet Explorer 8 and what it means for the browser world. Read more about how this came to be.
Disclaimer: I am currently doing paid work for a subsidiary of Microsoft. This was not the case when I wrote this post.
With the release of Internet Explorer 6 and the demise of Netscape, Microsoft deemed the Browser Wars over. Development effectively ceased and the era of the standalone browser was over, according to the IE program manager.
As any web developer can attest Internet Explorer 6, despite its crushing dominance of the browser market, was a dog. While Microsoft might have thought the end of history had arrived as far as browsers are concerned, others realised there was still room for improvement.
IE6 suffered from three major problems:
1. It was not standards compliant
Your average punter couldn’t really care less about this one. As far as they are concerned, if a website is broken it is the webmaster’s problem. Thousands of web developers developed grey hairs (or lost them altogether) over the inconsistencies in IE6.
2. It underestimated users and how they interact with the web
At one point Microsoft even went down the path of making the desktop background a webpage (Active Desktop, anyone). A single one. But of course, as we transferred more and more of our work and personal activities onto the web, most of us had several browser windows open, some dozens. Tabbed browsing was clearly needed, but Microsoft was in no rush to provide it.
3. It was not extensible
As the online world started shifting from a web of published information to a web of interaction and transaction, the browser provided no support for simple, client side programs that would allow to make sites even more powerful. While nobody can expect a browser maker to provide all these features, opening an application programming interface (API) allows thousands of developers to do this work for it.
So in came the Mozilla Foundation with Firefox and sold its new browser on points 2 (tabbed browsing) and 3 (extensions), and through its spread improved point 1 almost by stealth.
When the market share of IE started dipping, Microsoft quickly developed and released Internet Explorer 7, delivering on point 2 above.
Certainly, Chrome is super secure and stable through its isolated processes and Safari is fast and pretty, but will this be enough to get Joe Bloggs to ignore what came with his computer and go through the process of downloading and installing an alternative browser?
(Photo by Garrett LeSage)