Web browsers have started to develop again really quickly. Cloud computing, so central to the marketing from the biggest technology players, relies on fast, well designed browsers. So the "Browser Wars", the fight for dominance between Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Mozilla' Firefox is becoming interesting again. Largely because Google threw in a little flare a while ago to light things up, in the form of Chrome. Believe it or not, this really does matter to businesses, large and small, not just teenagers browsing dubious websites. With three big releases from the big browser players with us, we can start to see how the whole PC market is going to shape out. Yes really.
Taking a look at the article in CIO, Five Changes CIOs Should Care About, and you'll get a good idea of the importance Microsoft is placing on the newest release of its browser. Browser design, in my opinion prompted by Google Chrome's minimalist view of the world (you have one text box and a button for everything) has started to realize that people are most interested in the application that is running inside the browser, not the fluff and toolbar buttons around the edge. Looking at the official IE9 website, it shows the browser with a minimalistic frame around the website, a bigger Back button a large address bar and some tabs:
Simplified yet enhanced, the user interface brings sites forward. Characteristics of each website are reflected throughout the browser, allowing you to be more immersed in each site you visit.
Great, so the browser has been designed down to what it should always have been - a container for showing websites, not a flashy application that distracts and makes browsing or application use harder. So, what's the big deal?
Browsers have got faster. Much faster. And this matters for the growing adoption of cloud based applications. Google Chrome pushed the envelope, and gained a significant market share for three reasons:
- it looked good
- it worked fast
- it was secure
I used to use Firefox. It was starting to get bogged down under its own weight, and not managing the load of modern websites and software as a service (SaaS) / cloud-based applications. So I tried Chrome and never looked back. Internet Explorer has been slowing down for years, as the Microsoft teams placed little relevance on the importance of the browser. But if Google can make the browser the primary operating interface for all applications (since all your apps are apparently moving into the cloud and off the desktop), then that starts to make the Windows operating system irrelevant and largely an unnecessary expense for most PCs. So it was time for IE to fight back. And this is where the Browser Wars strategy seems to get confused.
IE9 is fast. In some tests it is faster than the newest release of Google Chrome 10, and likely to be faster than the much delayed Firefox 4. They are all fast compared to IE8 though. This is great news for everybody. No matter which browser you choose, your browsing experience has just got hugely faster on the slickest websites (and trust me, that makes it much more enjoyable to use sites with smooth transitions, images that fade in and out, menus that do clever things, etc). You are starting to use some of the power of your PC hardware again.
But then we come to that "strategy" topic. Microsoft have decided that IE9 will only run on Windows 7 and Vista. XP is dead in the water. Why would they do this? Well, cost is the primary reason. Its easier to develop and support for two versions of Windows, rather than three. Then there is the fact that Microsoft must be acknowledging that the browser really is making Windows irrelevant. If they give you a great browser (for free remember) on XP, why would you ever buy Windows 7? This is where I find the strategy to be flawed.
If the browser is so important to the OS (and you'll remember that Microsoft ended up losing a lot of money in the European courts for tying IE and Media Player to Windows to try and destroy the competition), then I'm not going to upgrade from XP to Windows 7 just so I can use a fully featured browser with the latest security. Oh no, I'm going to install Firefox 4 or Chrome 10. Microsoft loses more market share with the older OS users. The users come to realize that they really don't use that annoying Windows stuff behind the scenes, their browsing experience just got better without a new PC, and the next time they come to upgrade they buy the absolute cheapest edition of Windows they can possibly find (you can't get a PC without Windows pre-installed, so you'll have to suck up the Microsoft tax). And they'll install the same browser they've been using for the last 18 months, which will not be IE.
So, cost aside, Microsoft is basically telling people with older versions of Windows to go and try a competitors browser until they upgrade their PC next. But then Microsoft doesn't really care about that mass of users. They want the bigger slice of the pie, the CIO and his or her re-growing IT budget. Which is just a shame, as the next big companies (those growing from SMB to Enterprise status) will be using Google Apps or Zoho in a Google browser, not Windows, Office and IE.
Whatever happens, I'm happy to have faster, prettier, more secure browsing. Even better that I don't need to worry about botched Windows releases anymore!
A post from the Improving It blog
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