Browser War, RIA & Future of Web Development

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:

  • Standards
    Maximum compliance to web standards
  • Stability
    Be able to process client side scripts & media smoothly
  • Performance
    Fast rendering capability
  • Availability
    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:

  • Availability
    As of today most users prefer web browser that comes with their operating system
  • Performance
    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
  • Stability
    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
  • Standards
    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.

Outcome

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
  • JavaScript development skills will play a major role in web developers success
  • 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.

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11 Responses to “Browser War, RIA & Future of Web Development”
  1. Jared says:

    Very nice article and great explanation of why things are the way they are with IE today. I’ve known plenty of people that think the internet IS their browser. It’s very frustrating that people don’t get it but I guess they just have no one to tell them.

  2. Anthony says:

    Great article. This leads me to the conclusion that Silverlight was a very smart initiative indeed…

  3. Anna says:

    I agree, wonderful article. I really like the way you described difference between what users want and what developers want. I never looked at it this way. Thank you and keep up the good work.

  4. WOW! Really a master piece, I like it. Very well written and great comparison from the end user’s standpoint. Nice job, keep it up. :)

  5. Errr.. This didn’t really reveal much to me. But you’re right about Javascript development skills becoming more important. Sooner or later Flash will become too bloated for basic functionality like media. The second HTML allows you to rotate elements, Flash is dead, and we’ll see a new generation of Web Frameworks/APIs.

    But the most important thing to note is that the term RIA is going to become as ambiguous as a console shooter. Its just an App. I would have loved to see more speculation though, cell phones getting smaller, cars getting faster, all obvious conclusions. The distinction between the first and second browser wars was very informed however the title “The Future of..” kind of messed up my expectations.. or perhaps this was for novices.

    • Khan says:

      Anthony, Thanks for your feedback.

      As far as future is concerned, many other factors will play significant role. But this is another debate which was not really my focus here. My focus was to discuss how RIA is affecting browser development and its obvious impact on future of web development. Platform preference will be the key. Keep in mind that platform preference will be decided by users; not web developers.

  6. 45Degrees says:

    Interesting! very unique point of view on where browsers are heading. I must say this stuff makes sense…Great work

  7. viktor says:

    Thanks, really funny because Chrome absolutely SUCKS ROCKS and has a miniscule slice of the market.

    Chrome is Microsoft philosophy with Google’s name on it… The Chrome universe supports Google App API’s that only work via Chrome. So Chrome becomes the framework for “Google Office”. And once you put all your documents in it, then they charge you to access each and every one. BRILLIANT!

    The real headline should be:

    “World domination plans announced by Google, thwarted by Microsoft who replies “We already own the planet you tards”

    • Scott says:

      I gotta say this was a pretty good article even if Anthony believes its below him. Viktor your headline suggestion is brilliant..

      I have been in web development for sometime now and I gotta say conformity is the key that we do not have. If I never run across another issue where CSS works one way on IE and a Different way on Firefox and yet another way on Safari it will be too soon.

      I also have to agree to an point with Anthony in regards to Flash. It for the most part is crap but the good part of it is it looks the same no matter the browser you are in.

      I know people love to Hate MS mainly because they are the big dogs in the room but I honestly think MS is on the right track with things. There are many features that a webdeveloper can develop to IE but will never work or at best just wont look right in any other browser. I want standards but I don’t want the standards to be held back because other browser developers refuse to improve. Firefox is crap for the most part the only thing I ever really use it for in is testing to make sure my sites will work in it so the other people in the world that use it just because their so-called tech expert friend says it is spyware and virus proof.
      Those are the people I blame for starting the so-called new browser war. The spyware and malware jerks. Firefox got its big boost because they were new to the market and the spyware developers didn’t make spyware that affected firefox giving the impression that firefox could not get infected. So to those out there that have ever created any spyware or has helped spread it around thanks for nothing their guys.

      Ok I am done with my rant. if you actually made it this far thanks for listening

      • Sorgfelt says:

        I hate Microsoft because they try to own me and my potential customers, take my freedom and my money, make it impossible to start a business on a shoestring, have destroyed good companies and technologies with their unethical business practices, make my work as a developer more difficult. The fact that they are big is frustrating, but not why I hate them.

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