Is it Time to Uninstall Internet Explorer in the Enterprise?
Enterprises and other large organizations tend to use Microsoft’s Internet Explorer as it’s free and comes bundled with the operating system. It’s a simple choice that requires little effort and provides a level of functionality that most users are completely satisfied with. Therefore, it appears to be a no-brainer for cash starved IT departments or those that are already using the Microsoft product portfolio.
However, Microsoft knows this and it’s all part of an elaborate marketing game that some enterprises are wising up to.
In Europe, Microsoft has come under increasing pressure to uncouple Internet Explorer from Windows and Windows 7 will ship in Europe with a number of browsers installed. Users will be prompted during installation for their choice. The default choice is likely to be Internet Explorer but at least Microsoft are providing a choice.
In the rest of the world, Microsoft will fight for every inch. Microsoft knows that if it controls the browser, it controls the Internet. It can then use this position to force other technologies upon the world such as ActiveX (the Microsoft version of Java), Silverlight (the Microsoft version of Flash) and promote its own software for serving Internet pages and its own range of tools for creating the pages (Frontpage) and providing the database back-end (SQL Server).
By providing the world with enhanced functionality and non-standard use of HTML standards Microsoft can lure developers and businesses into a Microsoft-only world. Just as DEC and IBM used to use incompatible hardware 30 years ago, Microsoft is playing the same game with software today. They give something away for free, typically a significant component and then make it proprietary to lock the world into its products.
Microsoft dominated the browser market by giving Internet Explorer away for free, effectively under-mining Netscape Navigator. Navigator was a better product but you had to pay for it. It was Netscape’s only significant product. How do you compete against free? You cut costs and eventually have to make your product free. Meanwhile, the product suffers because the money isn’t pumped into development and you lose. Microsoft won the browser war by playing dirty. It used the money from Windows and Office to fund the development of Internet Explorer and eliminate Netscape … and nobody stopped it.
The Internet stagnated. When IE6 was released, Microsoft owned the browser world. It didn’t need to release another version, it didn’t even need to worry about the HTML standards or complying with them. Microsoft could now dictate how the Internet would develop. When other browsers started appearing, such as Firefox and Opera, Microsoft ignored them. They added new features and some sites started delivering desktop-like applications over the Internet. Microsoft didn’t have to worry though, it knew that if it didn’t upgrade it’s own browser people wouldn’t go through all the time and trouble of installing another product just to use some online word processor. So it stalled.
Microsoft kept stalling and the world was stuck with Internet Explorer 6 for years. Enterprises developed intranet and internet sites that completely relied on IE6. Browser compatibility testing was unheard of. In-house developers used the Microsoft development toolset, tested against IE6 and deployed. Microsoft was happy. Enterprises were happy and so were the in-house developers, they became lazy.
But Firefox didn’t die, it kept improving. Microsoft thought that an open source movement would be no threat for its legions of programmers and that the project would fall apart. After all, why would so many talented programmers create something for free? Microsoft laughed and carried on gorging on the fruits of its labour.
And then Safari appeared, along with the iPhone and then Google Chrome appeared. The world awakened and started to demand desktop-like applications and started to experiment with other browsers. They liked what they had and they told their friends. Microsoft panicked.
It had been so busy tricking the world into buying Vista that it forgot about IE6. It also forgot what made Microsoft big. It forgot to be creative, innovative and lead. It fell into the same trap that had befallen IBM 20 years ago. Microsoft released IE7 and IE8 in quick succession. It apologized to the web standards people and lined up behind the other browsers, doing the job properly and making sure that their new browser would let the world run what it wanted. It begged for forgiveness.
And this is where we are today. Microsoft is begging for forgiveness with IE8. Please install it, they cry. Please forgive us for our past sins and give us this chance to rebuild your trust. Is this a sincere request, probably. After all, if the world doesn’t give the dominance back to Microsoft what else will it do? With Microsoft failing on so many fronts and the loss of Captain Bill, what else has it got left? It has plenty but it has spread itself so thin that the direction of the company seems to be ‘dominate’ rather than ‘innovate’. IBM had the same philosophy and it nearly killed them.
But what would happen if the world did trust Microsoft again and moved to IE8, what would Microsoft do? Would they repeat the same mistakes. Maybe. But it’s enough of a maybe for the world not to trust it. Browsers need to comply with the web standards, only if our browsers do this can we developers continue to develop the Internet and deliver more feature-rich applications. Giving the power to a non-compliant browser will mean a return to the dark days of the Internet. We should all learn from the chapter on IE6.
Firefox is a wonderful browser. I know because I’ve used it since v0.7. However, Chrome, Opera and Safari are great browsers too. IE8 is just as good but I don’t recommend anybody installs it. Microsoft makes enough money from its other products and doesn’t need a browser product, the sooner it gets out of the market, the better for all of us.
Installing IE8 on any PC is a step backwards, please don’t do it.
Who am I kidding though? Why would any IT department choose a non-Microsoft browser? They’re just not that clever or strategic. This is why Microsoft wins. IT staff are stupid, lazy or unable to convince the upper echelons of business that they should be using a different browser.
In a few months time, more European users will use Firefox than Internet Explorer. In a year’s time, the US will follow suit. Maybe then, Microsoft’s customers will have re-written their lazy IE6 code and be able to move on. Only time will tell.