21/3/2005

Browser Wars revisited

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:45 am

So, basically, Javascript1 had a lot of potential, but Microsoft killed it by breaking the standard2. That meant that if you were developing a site that used Javascript you would have to make two different versions (and test them and troubleshoot them and maintain them), one for Internet Explorer and one for all the other browsers out there (Netscape, Opera, etc.) And Javascript for IE for Mac was broken in a different way from the one for PC, so maybe even 3 versions. It meant either that sites were hugely more expensive and timeconsuming to build, or that you just limited the functionality of the site to make it work. People ended up just giving up on Javascript as too difficult, which was a waste of a potentially useful technology.

Once Microsoft had won the ‘Browser Wars’ and put Netscape out of the loop (illegally) – I think IE’s market share got over 95% at one stage – it was content to just stop: how long is it since there’s been an Internet Explorer major upgrade (as opposed to a million patches for security holes that should have been patched before it went out the door)? The competition – Opera and the Mozilla stable (Mozilla, Firefox, Thunderbird) – definitely haven’t been standing still, and Firefox in particular has started to claw back significant market share.

So, naturally, Microsoft has realised it has to upgrade IE if it wants to maintain its dominance, and there’s a scheduled release as early as this summer – although watching the Longhorn operating system’s projected release date recede from us so fast it’s red-shifted might add some caution around that date. But the interesting question, as Scott Rosenberg notes, is (my paraphrase) “will Microsoft play fair, and compete by releasing a newer, faster, better, more secure browser with the features people want, liked tabbed browsing and extensibility, or will it get up to its old tricks and break the new technologies, like Java and XML, that are making the web better and richer?”

It’ll be interesting to see, but I have to admit to a certain level of learned cynicism…

  1. Javascript is a scripting language that can be included in the code of a web page to do a number of things to make the page more interactive. Despite the name, it has no real connection with Java, which is a separate programming language, except that sometimes the same kinds of things can be achieved with either Java or Javascript.
  2. That is, a new language has a set of standards that allow all manufacturers of browsers to make their software read it and do the same things. Microsoft chose to make up their own version of Javascript, and then build Internet Explorer so that it only read ‘Microsoft Javascript’ properly and broke on ‘standard Javascript’.

3 responses to “Browser Wars revisited”

  1. Sirdar Inc. says:

    Well…as a user of Firefox and Thunderbird I haven’t used IE6 since Firefox 1.0 came out. Now I use a much faster optimized Stipe version but that is the beauty of Firefox…people can improve on it and supply extensions for usability so you can use and do what YOU want, not what M$ wants us to do. The only thing I need IE6 is for Windows Update.

  2. Jason says:

    I love my Firefox but I find certain apps don’t work with it. And I never got an answer to my oil drilling question! What affect has producing 3.1 million barrels of oil a day had on your country? http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/cabs/canada.html

  3. Bravus says:

    See tomorrow’s post for discussion of the oil question!

    And there’s an excellent reason why some things don’t work with Firefox: because Microsoft broke them! Oh, Firefox is open source and in progress, so it’s not always 100% perfect, but I’d be willing to bet that at least 90% of stuff that doesn’t work with Firefox is due to exactly what this post was about – Microsoft breaking standards and building stuff (or causing it to be built) so that it will only work with IE.

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