Monday, June 10, 2013

Did MSIE, the Unbrowser, get a temporary repreive from obscurity?

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— Home of XPL (eXtensible Process Language)

It's like XML, but you can store source code in it.

MSIE 10 was released with Windows 8 in August. Some of the people who upgraded to Windows 8 apparently gave MSIE 10 a try, giving the browser a tiny tiny boost in tracking statistics for the last part of the year. To read some of the commentary (at least blog article titles), you'd think Microsoft was making a come-back.

The battle between the stats shows MSIE still on top according to some sources and well behind both Chrome and Firefox according to others. The difference is as simple as unique visitors verses raw hits. Half the people who ever get on the Internet via a browser are still using MSIE. But the vast majority of Internet traffic (vastly vast) comes in via other browsers. This means that MSIE use is dominated by people who don't use the Internet very much. So, why should we care? (They don't.)

There is more to the story, and developers and their customers should be keen to understand it all. Microsoft has traditionally done things in its own proprietary way, creating havoc and costing Internet content providers untold billions upon billions of dollars in development and maintenance costs. Other browser providers have supported the move to common standards, allowing developers to create one more easily maintainable version of complex websites.

Microsoft promised and now claims support for modern common standards in MSIE 10. Yeah, well, let me know how that works out for ya. My trials indicate that support for the modern standards is still rather slim at best (less than they say); just enough to let marketing make the carefully worded claim (i.e. there is some). Besides that, version 10 has only recently become available on Windows 7, and isn't compatible with earlier versions. So, you have a lot of Windows users out there who can't even use what MSIE 10 provides. Thus, the trend in meaningful, profitable Internet use is bound to continue to favor other browsers.

I have a somewhat off the top of my head, but educated quick estimate for you. MSIE use that really matters to most developers (their customers) lies in about the same region as the Windows Mobile market share, around 5%. And yes of course, if you include people who are just interested in cat pictures and email from the grandchildren, you can get a higher number. They're probably using Hotmail, so job done.

But wait, there's more. You might be thinking that MSIE has a chance in the future because of their (although rather tepid) announced decision to support common standards. You might have missed Microsoft's legal dodge against monopoly proceedings and the near successful effort to force them to sell off their browser business. In case you still don't know why it's now impossible for you to uninstall MSIE from Windows, it's because it's no longer a web browser as we commonly understand the concept. It's an integral part of the Windows operating system, impossible to sell off separately because it isn't separate.

This can only mean that MSIE, the unbrowser, is destined to remain behind, with this huge heavy ball, Windows, chained to its ankle. If it cuts the chain, allowing MSIE to run free, the courts will once again be looking at the possibility of removing the 'MS' part. Microsoft has trapped itself in its own web. MSIE will continue to live with granny and her cat pictures. For everyone else, MSIE doesn't matter.  

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