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 Microsoft.com, MSNBC.com, MSN.com 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.
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.
- Joel Spolsky: Internet Explorer 7 (and congrats on choosing Firebird, Joel)
- News.com: Microsoft to abandon standalone IE
- Microsoft.com: IE6 SP1 is the final standalone installation
- Jeffrey Zeldman: AOL to Netscape: Drop Dead
- Tim Bray: Browsers and CSS Again
- Steve Minutillo: Microsoft announces IE is dead
- Mozillazine Microsoft Pays Netscape $750 Million to Settle Antitrust Suit
- Ian Hixie: AOL agrees to get under Microsoft's desk
- Craig Saila: Browser bug swatting