Microsoft and AOL kiss and make up

So the other day, AOL and Microsoft reach an agreement and settle their browser suit. MSNBC declared "Browser War Over" on their front page at the time and led with this article. CNET covered the story too, asking "Is this the end of Netscape?" A very good question, but I'm not so interested in the answer. I don't use Netscape (I use Mozilla). Do you? Does anyone?

'Scuse me, but what have you been fighting for?

Personally, I don't get the whole browser war thing. I realize that at one point, the browser was the most exciting piece of software on a computer. The whole world was made available all of a sudden. It became the interface to so many things -- many times, inappropriately so. Some people even speculated that the browser would become the OS.

No. It's just a web browser, folks.

A few years ago, when Navigator 4.x was still the latest Netscape had to offer and when IE 4 and 5 were making strides toward web standards and the like, I had a small dream that Netscape would abandon the war against Microsoft. Concede defeat on Windows and turn Navigator into a IE wrapper. Using Internet Explorer's own component based architecture to build a decent, reliable browser that would have a Netscape logo but IE under the hood.

How times have changed

Now things are different. It puzzles me how Microsoft has sat on their laurels for the last year and a half, letting Internet Explorer 6 stagnate while there has been absolutely terrific innovation in the other browsers on the market. Internet Explorer 6.0 was released in October 2001. What has happened since then? Mozilla 1.0 was released at long last (June 5, 2002). Not to mention the other variations it spawned: Phoenix/Firebird, Galeon, Chimera/Camino and the like. Opera 6.0 and 7.0 have both been released. Apple has introduced Safari (still in beta, but looking good). The Konqueror browser been plugging along too. Even Amaya 8.0 was released (although -- honestly -- I think the only page that thing renders decently is the Amaya home page). The gist of it all is that IE's marketshare has topped-out and there's nowhere to go but down.

(By the way, do you find it suspicious that Microsoft hasn't released any major IE updates since Mozilla 1.0 came out? I'm very intrigued by that fact. Also by the fact that,, and family all look rather good in Mozilla. That wasn't always the case.)

At this point, I'm wondering exactly what Microsoft has to gain by continuing to develop Internet Explorer. Here's a thought -- and brace yourself for it: Microsoft should adopt Mozilla as the official browser for Windows. It wouldn't have to be Mozilla exactly. It could even be a custom interface using the Gecko under the hood. I know, I know. It would never happen.

What if...

But what if it did? What if Microsoft were to become contributors to the Mozilla project? They have nothing to lose. If the browser is just a component of the operating system, them they can't charge any extra for it. So why waste resources and money maintaining something that has no means to profit?

So what of Internet Explorer? Is it dead and no one has written the obituary? Robert Scoble (who now hangs his hat in Redmond) says not to worry -- Google works just fine in Longhorn. Oh, how comforting. Not exactly pushing any boundaries there are we? How well does it render CSS Edge? Or the CSS2 test suite? How's the inline box model? Support for PNG? Well?

Come on, Microsoft. The Mozilla team has built a world-class product. It even uses COM so you should feel right at home. And Firebird is practically a drop-in replacement for IE 6. And the interface is much more like Internet Explorer than the Navigator of the past. Consider:

  • Firebird is a standalone browser instead of being integrated with mail, editor and other applications
  • Auto image resizing much like Internet Explorer 6
  • One-at-a-time sidebars instead of multi-panel sidebars
  • Toolbar buttons can be positioned, even on the top-level menu line
  • The "About" menu option brings up a dialog instead of a web page
  • "Options" is under the Tools menu instead of the Edit menu

Why, with the Luna theme, I'd almost swear I was using Internet Explorer. Well, as long I don't leave Google. Ahem.

Not that Team Mozilla needs any help. But wouldn't it be cool if forces were combined? If we had one less browser to worry about. I side with Mozilla because it's open source and it puts standards first.

But... if Microsoft wants to keep doing their own thing, that's fine. Just do it already. It's not enough to have 90-whatever percent of a market. If you do, you just have that greater of a responsibility to maintain your product! Release often. Like every 2 to 3 months (kind of how Mozilla does it). Not just security updates. That's important of course, but so is fixing those pesky CSS bugs and the like. What does it take to make Microsoft treat those with the same importance as the security issues? If a CSS bug is found, I'd like to see an updated release to fix that within days -- not years. It's the only way we're ever going to get there.

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liorean said:

Well, IE is a mess as it is... What I don't understand, is why MS couldn't make IE updates seamless and automatic. That way, the browser checks out what updates are available automatically and downloads them . The features would have to be opt-out, of course, or possibly detect connection speed and ask if the download would take too much time.

Oh well, it would be interesting to see moz as a standard browser for windows, but that is not a way I see Microsoft taking anytime soon. (One have to wonder, with their licence on UNIX sources and all, if they don't have some devious plan under way, though...). And I don't think we are likely to see the browser becoming a free toy with the OS, either. I believe MS will do like they did on Mac, and make the browser more and more a service that the user pays for. The conversion will take time, they need to obscure the fact that the service is there to give them an excuse to let you pay for hte browser, but it'll come. This is in line with the tryouts of a pay-to-use instead of pay-to-install version of Office, for instance.

As for IE on Longhorn, the OS will be using DirectX to render it's GUI, and IE6 needed DirectX to render the PNG Alpha correctly, so I think we can expect PNG to be fixed. However, I don't see that we will get any updates on the win9x and winnt/2k/xp to bring them up to date with the browser of Longhorn.
The rest of the CSS problems we've had with Trident? We can only hope...

Wouldn't that beat all? :)

milbertus said:

Wow, that would so rock to see Mozilla used by default in Windows. Sadly, I don't think MS will see things the way that we do, though.

Until these stories about the MS/AOL settlement have been going around, I had forgotten just how old IE6 really is. They probably haven't updated it because, well, they don't "need" to. They have 90%+ of the market, what else is there to get? Sure, us geeks would love them to get it to be more standards compliant, but I don't see the marketing people agreeing with that.

Mike said:

The key is that Mozilla at this point isn't built like IE, which fits into a corporate managed network environment under windows domains nice and neatly, with the potential to control much much more than Mozilla could be able to do in its current incarnation. Which isn't to say that Gecko couldn't be used, but MS has been focused on "the next step" where the browser is a service within the OS and is manged and secured just the same as everything else on a network is. A consumer oriented switch to Mozilla isn't going to happen, and anyone who thinks it might is missing the part where MS gets its bread buttered by corporates, not consumers.

Fil said:

The lizard is my best friend.

pb said:

Microsoft using KHTML for rendering seems far more likely.

Basil Crow said:

Hmm... I *just might* have a recent build of Longhorn somewhere around here (wink wink), such as maybe build 4015. What are some pages that you might want me to test, in terms of web standards/PNG support?

Gerald Bauer said:

As I see it the browser war is over and now the desktop war is on. Just recently, for example, the Munich city council decided to move 14.000 desktops from Windows to Linux. Now is the time to push XUL forward. What is XUL? HTML is the markup for browsers and XUL is the markup for desktops. Find out more at the XUL Alliance site @

Nina Risa said:

There is another browser: MyIE2. It is an IE
replacement, and has more up-to-date features,
such as blocking pop-ups, tabbed windows,
and is highly customizable. I had to switch
to MyIE2 from Mozilla because the company I work
for declared IE as the official browser, and
we have to use software that doesn't work in
Mozilla. But MyIE2 is a good replacement.

(Side Note: I like the fields on this form! Never thought of using that CSS trick, I'll have to play with this on some web apps at work that are meant to be printed.)

For anyone interested in a tabbed browser with an IE back-end, try Avant Browser instead (Google it). I'm *much* happier with it than I was with MyIE2. The Google bar doesn't work, but they have a near-identical replacement. Other than that, the featureset is much more complete and the program is very stable (no crashes, vs. some issues with MyIE). Support is better as well.

MikeyC said:

Just curious about the effect Microsoft's involvement would have. Its good to have a goliath when you aren't getting paid as it gives you motivation to make your product better. Would the open-sourcers continue forward or abandon the product instead of doing free work for the benefit of Microsoft? I think there would be a splinter of sorts in the Mozilla community.

In response to milbertus, I would say that IE may be able to stagnate for a few (5?) more years. I mean, yeah, they have market share, they have fan-base, they have corporate loyalty, they have OS integration. But in 5 years...with the ongoing development of Mozilla and now FireBird (w00t!) and "Real" standards and technologies being implemented, and developers becoming wiser, and the burst of Web services and apps (mature technologies) that won't simply cease development because IE chooses not to update...with all of these things (and more), if IE sits they will lose martketshare. In this industry, a slip from 70% to 65% in 2 years or 70% to 55% in 5 years, hurts. I think I agree we won't see alot of significant development to IE in the near-run, but in the long-run I don't think IE has a choice but to improve...especially in the area of standards compliance. When every other browser (seemingly) is compliant, IE has to follow suit sooner or later.

Aaron Brazell


This article was published on May 31, 2003 7:28 AM.

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