Sunday, February 18, 2007

Microsoft blew it with IE

Recently, the Mozilla Foundation announced offline application support for Firefox 3. You see, this is the holy grail of the web. Once you have support for running offline applications in the browser, the browser becomes the framework/platform of choice for any king of application.
You see, until just recently, Microsoft Windows was the platform of choice for most desktop applications. This was due to the largest install base and because Microsoft has done just about anything to make sure that programmers find it easy to target their platform (think MSDN).
A platform is very different from your average library. A platform limits the ways in which you can write code. For example, in Windows, you create so-called applications. You know, you write a window procedure and Windows takes care of calling code for you. Before you know it, you're stuck. Fortunately, all the platforms that you can possibly care about are pretty similar, so if you want to port the code, it's not the end of the world. But it's still difficult. Plus Microsoft gets to dictate the changes.
Platforms are a lot like frameworks. You must write your code to fit the platform/framework. Until recently, Windows was, of course, the platform of choice for general purpose applications (think office applications, etc). Microsoft did its best to keep you locked into their platform.
Then the web happened. Microsoft got really lucky and somehowmanaged to obtain some 90% of browser market. But then, then it screwed up really badly. Firefox started happening. A couple of years of no updates to Internet Explorer later, Firefox is the browser of choice for hackers. Now that everyone who matters runs Firefox, Mozilla (or maybe Google, because they hire the programmers behind Firefox) can go ahead and add their own features of choice. Offline application support is one killer feature.
At the present moment, the only problem that keeps people from totally throwing away their desktop apps and switching to web-based ones is that Internet connectivity is not available everywhere every time. Now that offline application support is being added to Firefox, the browser can become the platform of choice for traditional "desktop" apps. I predict that other issues, such as raw speed, will become less and less important (JavaScript will do).
I also predict that once Firefox gets a big enough market share (say 30-40%), its adoption rate will increase exponentially and we'll see 80% in a very short time. Microsoft looses.


CISCBrain said...

Microsoft doesn't lose, it adapts, like the Borg. If what you say is really going to happen than MS is going to become Mozilla's best friend overnight and launch Internet Explorer X - with Mozilla(c) technology.

In the end the users won't care about boring (to them) details like rendering engine or license, what they'll see is a browser that's better than the previous version. Heck, MS may actually even solve the startup time problem that Firefox has today.

Who will actually win more from this, MS from fireing the IE team (they damn well deserve it) or Mozilla from losing their brand even though their product is being used?

stefan.ciobaca said...

What I'm saying is that Microsoft is slowly but surely losing its Internet battle. Google is currently controlling Firefox, the web platform of choice for discriminating hackers.
It is a sad truth that users don't care about license, but instead rely on the defaults. If Microsoft duplicates Firefox feature for feature (and they've this before), there's nothing wrong with that. I think it would be pretty cool to have different standards compliant browsers.
But what they'll probably try to do is "enhance" the feature such as to couple them to their own OS. However, I don't think they'll have the time to do so. Keep in mind that the IE team is new to the source code and they had trouble implementing basic functionality (tabs, which by the way, still don't work properly -- have you tried opening two sites from two different Internet zones in the same window, in two different tabs?).
Once software companies start offering web software that works on any platform (and works offline as well), Windows will have a hard time keeping its monopoly. At that time, Microsoft will have no choice but to port IE and Office to Linux :D
I'm not sure what you mean by "they damn well deserve it" -- do you mean the IE team deserved to be fired?

CISCBrain said...

I meant the team that did almost nothing (at least from where I'm standing) for some 5 years or so. I tend to exaggerate sometimes :)

> Keep in mind that the IE team is new to the source code
Are you saying that the team has already been changed?

What I meant by Internet Explorer X - with Mozilla technology is that I don't fully reject the possibility of MS releasing a browser based on the Gecko engine, just like Netscape and Flock. At least as a last resort I believe they'd do that.

stefan.ciobaca said...

I'm not sure about this, but I remember reading that the IE team was fired (well, moved to other products) soon after the release of Windows XP. At the time, MS was thinking of making its web browser software tightly coupled with Longhorn and they only left very few people in the IE team (security issues only). After Longhorn was delayed and features cut, MS rethought its strategy and created the IE 7 team. I can't quickly find any reference to this on google, but I'm sure there's some site that documents this somewhere.

Anonymous said...