The world was stunned this past week by reports that the Internet Explorer development team was finally caught in a "spider hole" near an unassuming farmhouse in Redmond. They're actually continuing development on IE, and are interested in what people think. [see IE Storm Watch for the sordid details]
Good news. I think IE was in greater danger than a lot of folks realize.
Exhibit A: Market Share
Take a look at IE total usage from March 2003 to June 2004 - it dropped almost 7%. Take a look at Mozilla usage over that same period - it rose roughly 7%.
|Year||Month||IE 6||IE 5||IE 5 & 6||O 7||Moz||NN 3||NN 4||NN 7|
source: http://www.w3schools.com/browsers/browsers_stats.asp, IE 5&6 total column and emphasis added
Note that this is not accounted for by a shift to non-Windows platforms:
|Year||Month||Win XP||W2000||Win 98||Win NT||Win 95||Windows Total||Linux||Mac|
source: http://www.w3schools.com/browsers/browsers_stats.asp, Windows total column and emphasis added
This is significant because it shows Windows userage staying relatively constant, but IE usage dropping - mostly shifting to Mozilla.
Exhibit B: The Nerd Vote
Now, I know weblogs.asp.net isn't 100% Microsoft cultists, but it's about as Microsoft friendly as Slashdot is Linux-prone, right? When you see developers who like developing against the latest and greatest Microsoft has to offer talking about how cool Firefox is, you need to worry about more than numbers. These folks are representative of the technology influencers who should be pushing IE for their projects, supporting it on their friends' computers, etc. That's not the case. When my friend had trouble with IE 5.5 (Mac), I told him he should dump it and move to Firefox - MS isn't even releasing IE 6 for Mac.
Why is this happening?
1. It's not Microsoft, it's something new to play with, etc.
Nothing you can do there, but this is a small percentage of folks who probably would play with Lynx if it wasn't Mozilla
2. Usability enhancements like tabbed browsing, etc.
If they work and are useful long term, features like this get end users to click the "Okay, you can be my default browser" button, but they probably won't try it out unless the techie influencers are pushing them to try it out. Which leads to...
3. Standards support
It's not just a slogan. Really. Most developers are happy to stay with what works, but when you're the one making their lives difficult they get vindictive. Remember back when Netscape was the pariah browser we had to support, and we couldn't wait for it to just die so we could stop dealing with it's annoyances? I think a lot of folks do.
Look around at some of the cool HTML / web design sites - http://www.alistapart.com/, http://www.mezzoblue.com/, http://www.zeldman.com/, http://www.k10k.net/, http://www.skyzyx.com/, http://www.csszengarden.com... you start to pick up on the fact that IE is making it hard to design nice looking and usable websites. IE is becoming Netscape 4.7.
It's no secret - web developers are unhappy with IE:
Why should Microsoft care?
Microsoft doesn't make any money off IE, right? Well, no. And yet, public perception of IE is very important to Microsoft's bottom line. Consider:
1. IE is one of the most frequently used Microsoft applications
It's one of the few applications that even runs on other operating systems. It's one of the first programs computer users get familiar with. That means that it has the opportunity to form opinions of Microsoft quality which users will carry forward to future software attitudes and purchases
2. It just looks bad for Microsoft to crush the competition and then stop developing
3. It could precipitate the kind of Open Source badness Microsoft doesn't want to think about
If you're mostly browsing the internet and doing simple document editing, you could easily get by on Firefox, Thunderbird, and OpenOffice.org. You really could. Most people don't because they're running Windows already, and it's easy enough to use the Windows applications if you're running Windows.
But imagine that a user's shifted browsers because the tabls look cool and hip websites are telling them that sites will look better in Firefox. Then, hey, OpenOffice.org's not that big a leap. Pretty soon you're just waiting for Linux to be usable by non-nerds and the jump's pretty easy.
In otherwords, the browser is the gateway drug, and Microsoft needs to treat its junkies a little better.
What should happen to IE?
1. Mac IE 6... or none at all
Either pick up support for Mac or politely push users off IE onto Safari / Firefox. There's no benefit to having Mac users running a clunky Microsoft browser, it's bad business. Lead or get out of the way.
2. Standards and Technical Parity with Mozilla browsers
PNG transparency, CSS support, SVG support, etc. Others have spelled it out in greater detail, so I'm not gonna rehash it. I'll summarize it - make web developers happy, because they are the influencers you want on your side. (A personal request - inline images - Mozilla supports it...).
Sure, goes without saying. Needs the same attention Microsoft's been giving all their products on security. I think this has been the only real positive thing here lately, though - security doesn't seem to be as huge issue for IE as it has been in the past. (wherein I invoke the wrath of my largely theoretical user base and they comment flame me to death).
4. A Roadmap
Microsoft's abandoned IE before, so they need to show us this isn't a bouquet and a peck on the cheek. We don't want you back for a weekend, not back for a day (no no no), I said IE I just want you back, and I want you to stay.... We know Longhorn's coming some day, but a lot of folks are going to be on XP or something else for several years to come. Tell them why they sould stay with IE before they feel the need to leave.