The end of IE

Much has been made amongst the blogging & development world in the past few days about the ‘end of IE’ (so much so in fact, that I’m not even going to link to the myriad opinions, I’m just going to add my own). It’s been confirmed that there’s not to be another Mac version of IE. In addition, it was announced that that IE 6 for the PC would the last stand-alone version. From now own, Microsoft will only release browsers with new versions of Windows. Apparently, for Microsoft, the browser business is no longer terribly interesting.

Perhaps the internet has moved beyond the browser, and Microsoft is realizing that. Perhaps they’re re-solidifying their business model, which has always been software-for-sale, not giving things away. So you can get new versions of the MSN browser by buying an MSN subscription, and new versions of IE by buying new versions of Windows. Sensible for them, really.

But this is bad for developers. Why? Because the spread of new operating systems has always been quite slow, particularly in the corporate world. And while IE 6 is a good browser, it is by no means excellent, particularly compared with current set of Gecko-, Opera and an KHTML-based browsers, whose standards support and featuresets far outstrip those of IE. And it looks like we’ll be stuck with IE for a while yet — the next desktop version of Windows is not due until 2005, and assume a couple of years for widespread installation, and suddenly, IE 6 is around until 2007. Which is along time. It will be by then the Netscape 4 of browsers: old,broken,bloated, hopelessly outdated by vastly superior browsers, yet still, for some reason, popular.

But perhaps not. One thing still holds true: most people will use the browser that comes with their computer and will not upgrade, except perhaps when they join an online service, or sign up with an ISP. And one of the small positives that came out of the collapse of the anti-trust case against Microsoft is that they could no longer ‘force’ computer vendors to include IE on the desktop at the expense of other browsers.

Apple already has an answer to IE: Safari, which will be shipped with every new version of the OS, and, currently at least, has a lively, responsive development team. For Linux, IE was never an option. For windows users though, what needs to happen is that the other browser companies need to sign agreements with the Dells, the HPs, the Gateways to get their browser on the desktop. Set up something like the windows update service for Netscape say, informing users that they need to download an update, and I think they will. The trick is simply to get them to use Netscape from the time they receive their computer.

I myself currently use IE for one reason only: the current version of my CMS required IE for its WYSIWYG editor to work, as it depends on an ActiveX widget itself to work (The tools still work without IE, but the WYSIWYG is a major selling point). My next version will hopefully no longer require IE: I’m testing both a flash-based WYSIWYG widget, as well as a Java-based one. It may be possible at this point to build one with just CSS- & DOM-rule interaction. Whatever the final solution shall be, one the requirements is that it works on other platforms besides IE/Windows. While that currently applies to 80-90% of potential users, I fully expect that number to drop by at least 20% in the next 2-3 years, after these current announcements.

So there’s my $0.02. Incidentally, this is, according to Movable Type, my 1000th post