Thursday, March 26, 2009
There's been a lot of hype, and even more anti-hype, the last couple of days about the recent release of Microsoft's Internet Explorer 8 (IE8). Along with the usual Microsoft bashing, there have been articles stating that IE8 won't save Microsoft's dwindling market share.
So lets recap the situation and revisit exactly why IE will continue to remain the majority choice out there for many years to come.
Firstly let's look at the numbers. Yes IE's market share has slipped over the last few years, mainly due to Firefox. Chrome and Opera get about a percentage point each, and certainly have their fans, but no serious competition. However, and this is important, IE's share hasn't slipped enough to make any difference in the past few years.
The reason's simple, good old IE6. Now in modern terms IE6 is a pretty poor browser. No tabs, insufficient security, poor CSS standards compliance. Let's look again at the numbers. The fact is that about the same number of people use IE6 (24%) as use FireFox 3 (26%).
This a a truly startling number, and even though numbers about Microsoft's browser share slipping to Firefox over the last few years have been loudly publicized, this has not. What is says is that at least one in four people simply do not care about having a modern browser, they don't see the need for tabs, add-ins and all the bells and whistles. All this despite Firefox being promoted on Google's own homepage, full page ads in the New York Times and a huge groundswell of support. The fact is that after several years of Firefox leading IE in technology the same number stuck with IE6 as have bothered to move to Firefox.
IEs launch was quiet, it wasn't announced loudly, and nothing was leaked to the press before hand. Understatement was the word of the day, for what is a major update to one of the world's most used software applications. So why is that?
Vince Vizzaccaro of Net Applications quote that was reblogged all over the place simply does not apply to IE8. He said "If I were Microsoft, I would do something more on the Mozilla model. I'd be a lot more optimistic [about IE8's chances] if there was a large public announcement that it was available."
Microsoft know something that Vince has failed to realize. They've already won. They didn't need a big hoopla of a huge launch. The guys who switched to Firefox are very unlikely to ever switch back to IE, that would be like vegan's ordering up a pastrami sandwich, it's just not going to happen. A big launch would gain IE nothing, as they will slowly convert the user base through Windows Update and installations on new PCs. They're also stemming the tide of new defectors to Firefox as the browser gap narrows. There just isn't that much difference in browsers anymore, certainly when it comes to rendering HTML.
As software developers there are lessons here. Microsoft, after some mistakes in the past have come up with a solid and confident approach to slowly and systematically remain at the top. They've learnt the lessons of big promises that have left egg on their face in the past, and have come up with a solid applicaiton that's clearly an improvement and gives users features that they actually want.
Posted by Nico Westerdale at 7:22 PM