What If They Gave a Browser War and Microsoft Never Came?

Two weeks ago, Apple announced a new version of WebKit, the underlying rendering technology of their Safari web browser. The feature list is impressive:

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at: http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2007/11/what-if-they-gave-a-browser-war-and-microsoft-never-came.html

As a most-of-the-time web developer, I hate browsers.

I found myself thinking one day, “What if there was some kind of standard by which browser developers could follow and implement, so development for web applications was less painful and more enjoyable? What if every browser could pass the CSS acid test – if not perfectly, then at least in the same way?”

I’m sure everyone knows the mallet that landed on my head.

Taking all indicators into account, which are a cancelled PDC 2007, Windows Vista, Silverlight and WPF, I believe Microsoft is preparing for the big coup: They must be working on a project with the codename “Active Desktop”. This means that the next release of IE and the client OS will be bundled and going to be released as WIEndows (ween dos).

I think Microsoft will do what they always do - as soon as all the competition is presented they will release a competent browser that covers all of the latest technologies and features, but that contains no new innovations.

You can see the pattern from Windows Media Player. It gets prettier and more features get added, but its features that just keep up with the latest technologies. There is absolutely NOTHING exceptional about later versions of WMP except that it maybe caters for a very broad range of uses. But again, with all the little uses in the range it does not stand out from other apps dedicated solely the use.

I agree with you that a web browser is probably the most important application, and I really hope that Microsoft will break the habit and come up with something amazing. They certainly have all the resources but I hope they can mix a little innovation in with that.

The question is whether browsers are the future. The web brower, has given us a more design based user interface rather than the arbitrary grey window-square button windows UI. But… HTML/Javascript/Ajax etc. does not offer the same UI experience that iTunes (for example) offers.

With WPF Microsoft is reviving the desktop app. My guess is that the long term aim is to bring back desktop applications but with a few key changes. Being designed by designers (expression blend) and the same ease of access you get with a web app (silverlight?).

The browser will become a tool for online marketing, news and information. Applications will run on the desktop once more. Enhancing the browser to support a never ending list of new application based technologies may be less important than it seems.

I must be changing into a Microsoft geek, i didn’t know about the new features in Safari and i’m pretty much a Mac geek.

I’ve been using Safari as my main development/test browser for almost as long as i can remember and haven’t run into compatibility issues much, only some minor issues that existed only in IE.

My pet peeve with Safari on Windows is that it’s painfully slow compared to Safari on a real Mac (of similar spec) but at least it supports the keyboard shortcuts that i’ve come to know and love.

But to answer your title question… If there was a browser war and microsoft never came… there would likely not have been a war at all. maybe some barfights, but no war.

I wonder - is there really an IE 8 yet? IE 7 was 5 years in coming because there’s no money in browsers (at least, not in a ‘X $ a box’ way). It was only in the face of increasing numbers of users migrating to Firefox, and the increasing richness of web applications that the IE team was reassembled.

I suspect that someone at Microsoft realised “Good browser and good web applications - this could obviate our owning the OS. Why would people buy Windows/Office?” On the other hand, I suspect that parts of Microsoft don’t get the importance of IE - you can’t charge money for it, so why go through the expense of ongoing development? The principle of using it to offer more than other web browsers, so as to keep users buying other products is, well, less obvious.

(And yes, I know that that why buy Windows is still good question).

The Firefox 3 user interface updates look nice, but I really wouldn’t see a use for anything else than the bookmark tagging and the secure browse mode.

Opera has had the option to tag bookmarks for a while. It just doesn’t call them tags… When bookmarking, just write a couple of words/tags to the description box and you can use the bookmark search to find them like tags :wink:

By the way, what is it with this HIDEOUS font you’ve switched to?

When a browser has the same features Opera does (native mouse gestures, native bookmark synchronization, notes, integrated e-mail cliente, ad blocker) I will consider trying it.

“IE 6 was a great browser-- in 2001.”

That actually made me laugh out loud.

Firefox’s inability to do anything in a tab while another tab is loading…how many Jetman games have I died in through another tab loading? :slight_smile:

Alex: Out of curiosity, what do you mean by native GUI rendering? While I no longer use Firefox as my primary browser, I’m just curious as to what it does differently than a normal (themed) app.

Kris: While Microsoft is still in the lead, they are slowly losing ground. On my own site, IE6 is used by 31% of visitors, followed by Firefox 2 and IE7 with 25% each. Safari rounds out the top 4 at 3%. These statistics are for 18,021,750 hits.

1/4 of the users that visit my site use Firefox. That’s a huge number compared to just a few years ago when almost everyone used IE. If Firefox’s numbers continue to grow and Microsoft doesn’t show up for the fight, they may lose by default.

This could impact Silverlight. Although Silverlight runs on Firefox for Windows and Safari for OSX, abandoning its primary platform could result in a PR mess on the development side. As Steve Balmer pointed out before, Developers (, Developers, Developers) are the key to Microsoft’s success. Alienating them is not a good idea.

Just to set things straight on Webkit’s “new features”:

* Enhanced Rich Text Editing

Isn’t a feature, it’s just that now Webkit does support RTEs at all, it was painfully horrible before

* Faster JavaScript and DOM (~ 2x)
* Faster Page Loading
* Reduced memory use (~14%)

Performance gains, always good but not “features”

* SVG support

SVG, good

* XPath support

Playing catchup, MSIE and Firefox have had that for a long time (even though MSIE’s XPath notably doesn’t work on HTML documents… and uses a non-standard interface to boot)

* Improved JavaScript XML technology (XSLT, DOMParser, XMLSerializer, and enhanced XMLHttpRequest support)

Playing catchup again, except maybe for XMLHttpRequest

* Styleable form controls

New features, but it could very well be a curse more than a blessing

* Additional advanced CSS support: 2.1, 3.0, and experimental.

Very good

* Web Developer Tools included 

And they’re not bad either.

There is IE 8 and it will be presented with Windows Vienna.

as for innovations,
I thought MS was the one to come up with the XMLHttpRequest function, which evolved into the the root of ajax applications. Of course, this was back in 2001 …

Who cares?
Who really cares about Internet Explorer?

Besides, the reason why MS can’t tell anything about IE8, is that they themselves don’t know what will be in! MS cannot innovate, it’s as simple as that.
Has MS ever made anything totally out of the blue? Something that wasn’t based on an idea of a competitor or bought in?
And especially wrt the Internet MS has always been a follower, never a leader. Sure, when they throw their weight behind something, they can easily catch up, but they cannot take the lead and for sure not with their stupid obsession with Google.

One of Microsoft’s greatest problems iwth IE8, is that they are (finally!) moving towards following the HTML standard. Because IE has been so permissive in it’s rendering before, loads of sites doesn’t work properly in other browsers (that do follow the standard), so they are naturally afraid of “breaking” these broken sites.

If Microsoft never came, I am sure it is because there is no profit in browsers, for Microsoft at least. If Microsoft tries to force windows on the users, they become more unpopular. People want standards; people want to be able to create web pages that just work. You really can’t imagine that Microsoft created a browser today that would not support Google apps. Sure they could just improve IE, but they are forced to follow standards, just implementing new technology not supported by W3C would not be welcomed.

So that is why they look at Adobe with envy and create Silverlight. Nobody is complaining about Adobe not following standards with flash or acrobat. If everybody (windows, mac, linux, xbox, mobile, etc users) is running WPF/Silverlight, then people still have a need for windows. Especially if it performs better on the windows platform.

“IE 6 devolved into Netscape 4.7x”… There is the clue. Microsoft didn’t need to release anything since Mozilla used forever to produce Netscape 6. So IE6 is more Mozillas fault than anybody else :wink:

Firefox has beaten IE. The only thing keeping IE alive is inertia and a large swathe of websites that only render under IE.

If IE remains good enough, then many will not switch. Hopefully, we’ll all move on but it’s hard to ignore such a large majority of users so for now everybody still needs to develop for IE.