I installed a beta of IE7 last week and was quite pleased at the new interface and tabbed browsing, which has been available to Opera and Mozilla used and many other browsers for years.
However, looking good and being slick and more standard-compliant hasn’t been enough to keep it on my machines.
The main issue is that IE7 is now yet-another browser that web designers have to test and include support for.
It may not be a huge deal for most sites, but some do rely on specific browser versions. In my case the problem arose when I tried to connect to my company’s online bank account. For security reasons (?!) it only supports IE6, not even Firefox so it’s one of the few sites that requires Internet Explorer.
Problem is that IE7 replaces IE6 entirely, with the unfortunate result that I now can’t connect to my bank accounts (company accounts only, the portal for personal accounts supports Firefox).
So I’ve had to remove that beta.
Early adopters of Vista will now doubt have a few -temporary I’m sure- surprises.
I think Microsoft made a big mistake when they decided to stop development of IE6 and not incorporate any more improvements into it.
Maybe the company was under too much legal spotlight at the time and leaving the scene for a while was a move to appease those who were concerned about its monopoly on internet browsing.
The unfortunate side-effect was that the browser millions relied-on had still some important flaws. Its User Interface and usability has now been overtaken by Firefox and Opera which benefited from the development interrruption of IE.
I am not sure if IE can become better than Firefox in terms of extensibility: Firefox sports thousands of extensions and themes to customize it. I’ve got quite a few useful ones that are certainly particular to my way of browsing the net. How is MS going to integrate that into IE7?
What made Firefox popular was its focus on carrying-on where IE6 had left and offering a better browsing environment that could be customized with all the widgets and utilities that you wanted.
If MS doesn’t incorporate the same level of extensibility, it will carry-on losing a big share of its browser market to Firefox, at least in the personal user world.
But Maybe Microsoft doesn’t care too much about browser wars any longer.
When you approach perfect standard compliance, which browser you use to render the content isn’t important any longer. Since MS failed in the past to tie revenues to the browser itself (remember the ill-fated channels that would bring commercial content to your browsers back in the days of IE4? No?, well I’m not surprised…) the incentive for building a better browser is elsewhere.
One of the reasons that may be motivating MS is that a lot of its other products are increasingly dependent on the Internet. In a corporate environment, almost all business-oriented services are accessed through a web interface of some kind.
Microsoft must ensure that it retains the monopoly on these implementations to keep control of the complete user experience.
If MS wasn’t pursuing its IE development, more companies would start to look at alternatives, not only to IE, but also to larger expensive products like Exchange: once you accept that IE isn’t needed to offer rich client-side user interfaces, and that you don’t need Exchange either, you’re endangering Microsoft hold on the corporate market somewhat.
So going further and ensuring tight integration of its products together is paramount.
IE7 is also terribly important to MS on the home user-front: making sure that users use the same browser both at home and at work ensures that they are more likely to stay with what they know rather than accept using a new browser, that may require retraining for some.
That reason may seem feeble, but it ensures that the vast majority of people is not exposed to other alternative technologies.
Without IE7, that risk becomes real as more and more savvy users and corporations are turning to Firefox for its increased security (or at least for the fact that it is a lesser target to malware).
That factor alone may obviously not be sufficient to force a company to move away from MS, but it may be sufficient to poison the mind by making people to consider alternatives they would otherwise be somewhat reluctant to contemplate by fear of the unknown; a fear that MS has not shied away from exacerbing through its FUD campaigns.
Of course, all this requires a few grains of salt, I may be completely wrong…