Why is Internet Explorer so retarded?
I don’t use Internet Explorer if I can help it, but when I do my first thought is how kludgy and old-fashioned it now seems compared to Mozilla, Safari, Firefox and Opera. This leads to a second thought: why did Microsoft apparently stop developing IE? After all, it’s a flagship product and Billg is always ranting on about how Microsoft innovates.
Now comes an interesting piece in the Guardian by Ben Hammersley which addresses that very question. His answer, in a nutshell, is that Microsoft stopped developing IE because the company could see it metamorphosing into a threat to Windows and Office. After all, if browsers and web applications become so sophisticated that one can do serious work inside your browser, why worry about operating systems and Office suites?
Hammersley also points out that Google’s upcoming email service may offer the first sign that this is happening. Some recent testers report that Gmail is much, much slicker and faster than any previous webmail service — and in some cases preferable even to using a specialised email client program. Supposing this is the thin end of a wedge — that Google has other web applications (word-processing with unlimited storage?) in mind for its huge Linux cluster? What then?
We’re moving towards a world in which people want applications that do what they want, and are agnostic about how precisely those applications are delivered. I often make that point in lectures by asking the audience to indicate if they use Microsoft software. Most hands go up. How many people use Macs? A few hands. How many use Linux? Usually no hands go up. Final question: how many use Google? All hands go up. “Congratulations”, I say, “you’re all Linux users then”. It’s a dirty trick to play on businessmen, I know, but it doesn’t half make the point. And in the interests of full disclosure, I should point out that I got the idea from Tim O’Reilly, Whom God Preserve.