IE The Browser You Loved To Hate
Written by Ian Elliot   
Friday, 30 November 2012

Microsoft has a new, clever, witty and funny campaign designed to convince us that while IE9/10 might not be perfect, it is a lot better than most of us think it is. So is the disapproval of IE simply a misguided bigotry? Or is there a real reason we love to hate it?

Some people are saying that the new Microsoft video and website is gently playing along with the idea that people think that IE sucks and it's a sort of self-mocking parody. This doesn't really seem to be the case but view the video and decide. To the I Programmer team it seems like a simple and straightforward accusation of bigotry and a delight in putting something down even if it has its good points.

 

So are we technical types bigots when it comes to IE, or is there more to the story?

Perhaps wisely Microsoft has disabled comments on the YouTube version of the video.

To put a more wordy case for IE there is also a new website that puts the point of view that comebacks are very possible and I guess you shouldn't damn IE 9 and 10 because of earlier versions of IE. This is a very reasonable point of view but the site doesn't actually make any testable claims for the latest versions of IE its just a collection of sometimes just lukewarm comments - it's not as bad as it used to be.

One of the more amusing parts of the site are the graphs showing amazing comebacks.

Some of the amazing comebacks even seem to praise companies that you might think could be Microsoft competitors:

bird

Although you can try in vain to find a cartoon showing how search went into a slump until Google brought it back to life. And similarly you wont find a chart showing how Apples went out of fashion until the most impressive comeback of all time. These examples may backup your point but not in a way that marketing or company politics would approve of.

If you read site then the basic message seems to be

"yes IE6 was bad and we are glad to see the back of it as well but the new IE isn't bad - its good"

The big trouble with this message is that back when IE6 was new Microsoft would have claimed it was good - so to the student of history what Microsoft says about IE isn't proof of anything much.

If you also read the "testimonials" on the site they all seem to be about how "wow" the IE experience is without saying much about what they are experiencing. There also don't seem to be any testimonials from anyone who has to create the experiences that are "wow"

The real reason that IE sucks is that is servers the purposes of Microsoft marketing. This is reasonable, what other purpose could it serve?

But the browser is no longer just a matter of end user experience. It is a programming environment and end user experience depends on what developers do to create that experiences. Microsoft attempts to make IE do its work by refusing to adopt standards and APIs that might damage its other assets e.g. the lack of support for WebGL because it uses OpenGL rather than DirectX. It also makes it difficult for new standards and APIs to be produced either because it prefers its own technologies to stuff invented elsewhere e.g. WebRTC.

There is an even bigger picture however.

 

firefoxos

 

Firefox and Chrome both have aspirations to be operating systems Firefox OS and Chrome OS. For this to happen both browsers have to add extensive APIs that go well beyond what HTML5 currently offers. So far they are both developing too slowly as standards based browser OSes and to speed things up there are lots and lots of non-standard APIs appearing every week. The worrying thing is that having the intention of making these APIs standard is not the same as doing it.

Now consider IE.

It doesn't have a role as an operating system.

Microsoft has created WinRT exactly to head off the prospect of a Windows browser based OS. WinRT is a browser like environment - you can use HTML and JavaScript to create apps - that goes well beyond the browser - you can use C#, C++ and XAML to create apps.

Things go a little wrong in the design when it comes to Windows Phone 8 in that this doesn't support WinRT JavaScript apps. However, if this approach is to be taken seriously, it will have to some time in the future - assuming there is a future for WP8.

Notice also that there is the small matter of killing of desktop gadgets. This means that the only Microsoft way you can now create web apps for the Windows OS is to write a WinRT app. Of course, you could make your user download Chrome or Firefox but this isn't a perfect solution either.

Even if you don't mind putting up with some of the omissions and additions in IE beyond the standards, you need also to take account of "coverage".

The joy writing a web app is that it should run everywhere.

The pain of writing a web app is that it generally only works properly on the browser you have targeted.

You might think that the trick was to commit to the extra work and target multiple browsers, but at the moment this isn't always possible. If you want to use WebGL you can, with some effort, target Firefox and Chrome. If you want to use WinRTC with a video camera then you have to target just Chrome.

 

chromeOS

 

What this means is that as things stand at the moment what matters is the number of platforms a browser supports and in this respect IE is terrible.

IE is a Windows and Windows Phone specific browser. You won't find it on Android, iOS, Linux or anything else that runs any sort of program.

So if you develop apps with IE as your primary target then you are at a stroke cutting Linux, iOS and Android from your audience, unless you are happy to do a port of your supposedly standard web app to another supposedly standards supporting browser.

As time ticks on it is going to become increasingly clear that the reason that IE sucks is simply that it doesn't aspire to become an OS and it doesn't aspire to replace existing Microsoft technologies.

As the other browsers acquire, hopefully increasingly, standardized ways of creating complete applications that work in the browser, IE will simply refuse to run them. The reason is that if it did then it would make WinRT look unnecessary and perhaps even make Windows itself look like a supporting act.

In a very short time it could be that IE10 is as hated as IE6 was and for very similar reasons.

Could Microsoft turn this around?

Yes, of course it could.

The company that has just pulled of the most impressive feat of software engineering for some time, i.e. the implementation of WinRT and the re-engineering of WP8 in a very short time (even though neither exercise was actually a requirement to move forward), could rebuild IE to be a universal platform across all devices and attract developers by the score. In such a world everyone would love IE - without the need for a tacky and downright insulting advertising campaign.

But what would be in it for Microsoft?

 

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The Browser You Loved To Hate

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Last Updated ( Friday, 30 November 2012 )
 
 

   
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