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Browserama Continues: More Readers Have Their Say

The dog days of summer have started to heat up at RCPU, with lots of great comments and e-mails on browsers, how they do or don't make money, why they're important and whether having IE embedded into Windows is really that big of an advantage for Microsoft.

We've had quite a lot of activity on the blog site itself (spurred on by a great e-mail from reader Andy, which you can see here), which is fantastic. And we've had some great, thoughtful e-mails that have followed Andy's contribution. Let's get to some, shall we?

David starts us off by saying that the real problem isn't whether Microsoft is trying to use Windows to build an IE monopoly; it's that browsers have simply gotten out of control:

"Despite what the far-out think tanks convey to us from their ivory towers in Redmond and Palo Alto, the world would be much better off if IT chose to manage change much better (i.e., if it ain't broke why change it?). This message comes to you from a machine that runs on IE 6, something that is no longer available from Microsoft as a standalone download or even on a CD that you pay to get, which is a shame because it works admirably with the OS  and weighs in at less than 200 MB of memory.

"To run IE 8 on XP, you need at least 400 MB now just to open one tab, which makes you wonder: Where have we gone and at what price? Mozilla 3 with its memory leaks is even worse. You will need 512 MB for that. Better to stay with Firefox 2, if you can.

"So why do we find ourselves on a treadmill? It seems that we lost sight of the objective: 'Build it right the first time and make it last.' That is what my dad always said. At one time, my associates called me the Maytag man because I build it to last just like my dad, who engineered the Lockheed C-130 Hercules, which has been the mainstay flying to the South Pole and in and out of hurricanes now on a regular basis for the past 50 years. And that is what I do for my customers. 

"By the way, I have been writing cross-browser Web applications for 15 years now. The world is not going to change just because IE 8 broke it."

David, we see where you're coming from. Maybe some consumers, at least, are starting to understand the appeal of simplicity; that could explain in part the netbook craze. But building something right the first time and making it last is, unfortunately, not a great business model for the software industry. (Well, maybe it could be, but nobody really seems to have tried it thus far.) Look at Microsoft with XP. XP is actually too good, and its longevity is hurting the company. (Of course, Vista being a dud didn't exactly help Redmond.) But we're with you philosophically and in spirit; we'd love to see cheaper, smaller apps and fewer updates.

Meanwhile, Peter, serial e-mailer and a shoo-in for the RCPU e-mail hall of fame (to be built, perhaps, in the now-empty former law office next to RCPU's headquarters), says we're a bit two-faced on the browser issue:

"I very much enjoyed your browser article, particularly the contribution from Andy [Here it is again. --L.P.], which I think you didn't quite get. Andy is quite correct in what he says. The amusing thing is that on the one hand, you're defending Microsoft against the 'evil, Microsoft-bashing EU,' and then immediately following Andy's contribution, which I'm impressed you printed, you follow with examples of the nasty competitive things Microsoft is doing to take out the opposition."

Peter, as always, you make a good point here. First off, we love running dissenting opinions here in RCPU. This is a place for rational debate and discussion, as is the online blog site (that is, of course, if you consider your editor to be rational to begin with -- but that's another story).

But to clarify what we've said about Microsoft and IE, our take has long been that Microsoft should be able to do whatever it wants with its operating system, including cramming a browser into it. Again, Firefox has managed to compete pretty effectively with IE without any OS or major Web presence -- hello, Google Chrome -- to support it.

On the other hand, for the sake of computing -- and here's where things get a bit unrealistic, we'll admit -- Microsoft should respect standards-based browser development more than it does now, not only in an effort to level the competitive playing field a bit (something Microsoft doesn't care about) but to make the lives of developers, partners and customers easier (something that should be very important to Microsoft). Of course, we understand that Microsoft keeping IE in Windows and embracing browser standards are probably mutually exclusive things, so, yes, we're rethinking our position on this whole thing a bit.

Let's see if Warren can help us out a bit with this issue:

"I think you and Andy both have the question backwards. You make my point yourself when you say:

'What we don't like, though, is the lack of respect for browser standards (or the lack of real standards themselves) that Andy alluded to. Browsers should be commodities -- it really shouldn't matter that much which one someone uses, and Web-based applications should work as well in one as they do in another.'

"If you believe that, how can you argue in favor of 'officially supporting' multiple browsers? In theory, a developer should be able to develop to the standard and not worry about different browsers. In fact, even with standards-compliant browsers, there can be (and are) different interpretations of a standard. The question then becomes which one is right and leads into de facto standards -- the 'right' interpretation is the one the most people use.

"I say the onus is on the niche browsers to conform. Sure, they may have a better idea (or not), but as we learned from the VHS/Betamax wars, if no one uses it, it doesn't matter. If Opera wants to matter, I should think that they would try real hard to make sure that they could run Microsoft applications, rather than expecting Microsoft to conform to them."

This is a great, market-based, capitalist position, and we're kind of leaning toward adopting it right now. Let the market decide who has the best browser, and let the challengers conform to the de facto standard and win with innovation and better ideas. This might not be fairness, but it's realism.

Of course, it really doesn't seem fair that Microsoft should be able to get such a head start with IE already in Windows. Then again, we don't like the idea of government telling Microsoft what it can and can't do with its products -- even though we realize this happens all the time in every industry all over the world. The bottom line seems to be that, whether IE comes bundled in Windows or not in the future, Warren has an excellent grasp of reality here. IE is here; it's popular, and it's not likely to go away. It might be a good idea for its competitors to conform to its standards, fair or not.

As for whether browsers really matter, though, we realize now that they do -- and we're a bit undecided on what Microsoft should do about bundling IE. That puts us, we figure, in a very large category of industry observers.

Let's keep this discussion going, at least until some news starts up again in the fall. E-mail your take to lpender@rcpmag.com.

Posted by Lee Pender on 08/20/2009 at 1:22 PM


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