Today most web developers hate Internet Explorer, primarily because of IE6. IE6 has too many issues related to web standards and it refuses to die. Many web developers believe if Internet Explorer looses this browser war; their lives will improve significantly. Many actively campaign against IE in hopes of getting rid of it, simply Google “Stop IE” to see how annoyed people are.
There should be no excuse for poor compliance to web standards; but this deviation from web standards was probably necessary to survive the first browser war. The first browser war was all about new and cool features, no side really cared about web standards. And when finally Internet Explorer won the war; it dominated the market with up to 95% share. Very few developers complained about standards at that time, and were happy to develop for only one browser. Although web standards may not be a casualty this time, this so called browser war like previous one has nothing to do with what web developers want.
What Web Developers Want?
Web developers’ demands are very clear:
Maximum compliance to web standards
Be able to process client side scripts & media smoothly
Fast rendering capability
Easily available to users
Web developers will be able to play some role in determining which browser dominates, but final results will be determined by ordinary users.
What Users Want?
Actually ordinary users have same demands as web developers, but in totally reverse order:
As of today most users prefer web browser that comes with their operating system
At present most users blame their ISP for slow performance; to get noticed in this area, a web browser will need to significantly improve its performance
At present most users believe stability issues are only caused by viruses and poor hardware and they may continue to do this for some time
At present most users rarely notice these issues, but this is changing rapidly primarily due to web developers campaign for web standards
Hopefully order of the above lists will explain why web developers love standard compliant browsers like Firefox & Opera; and why majority of web users are still using Internet Explorer.
What’s at Stake Here?
When Google released Chrome in 2008, the whole dynamics of browser war changed; it became obvious that browser war has become part of a much bigger conflict between Microsoft and Google. This war is no longer about a better web browser; it is now about different delivery methods that protect interests of these two giants.
To understand their interests think who will benefit more when content is delivered through a web browser; and who can benefit more when it is delivered directly to the desktop.
Microsoft wants to see people spend more time on their desktop even when they are connected to the internet. This is the main reason why Microsoft’s has invested so much effort behind Rich Internet Applications (RIAs). It eventually hopes to bring users back to desktop through Desktop RIAs.
Google on the other hand dominates web; it earns billions of dollars worth of advertising revenue from countless sites in its network. Users abandoning web browser is a nightmare scenario for Google. RIAs accessed through a web browser is not a concern; it is RIA’s ability to move users back to desktop is what worries Google most. To counter this Google needs to make sure web browsers are so powerful that users will not care for advantages offered by Desktop RIA.
To some web developers my argument may seem too farfetched, but an ordinary user doesn’t really care how information is delivered. All they care is that information is delivered easily, would prefer it if it looks cool & runs fast, and will probably love it if it can integrate with other applications. Microsoft’s intentions to undermine web browser is evident from the fact that Windows7 will allow users to turn off Internet Explorer! Yes, this is correct and it is the same Microsoft which argued that Web Browser is intrinsic part of an operating system when it shipped IE with Windows95?
Need For Speed
With such high stakes, you should expect rapid developments in Chrome; pushing for maximum performance. Google’s objective is to allow web developer to create RIA for browser that can compete with Desktop RIA. Google will not care if any other browser delivers better performance; Chrome has entered the browser market to ensure that such powerful web browsers are developed.
At present Chrome has 1% market share compared with 67% of Internet Explorer. But if Google succeeds in pushing other browsers like Firefox, Safari & Opera to provide faster performance, you are talking about 32% of the market share working to protect Google’s interests. Interestingly one of the main features in Internet Explorer 8 is a faster script engine.
Redefining User Experience
With new UI controls, cool special effects and interactivity, Microsoft is pushing for out of this world user experience. All of which will probably be very difficult to achieve through a web browser. Like Google; Microsoft is not alone, it is counting on other RIA developers to push these limits further.
Regardless of what will happen to Google and Microsoft, coming years will bring both challenges and opportunities for web developers. Frankly I don’t know what will be the exact outcome, but I see things moving in the following direction:
- Web Browsers will improve significantly and IE will continue to lose market share
- Users will see more and more cool effects & components on websites and your clients will demand same from you
- RIA will dominate web in both forms (Desktop & Web Browser)
- Many tasks that users perform today through a web browser will be done through Desktop RIA
- Developing RIA will become easier than ever & web developers will start offering desktop solutions
- Google & Yahoo will significantly improve indexing of RIA based websites
My advice to web developers is not to take any side and let ordinary users decide how things will take shape. But every web developer must invest time to understand advantages and drawbacks of RIAs in both browser and desktop environments.