There is a real war brewing in the Web browser world. Wars create victims in some of the most amazing ways. Here’s some thoughts about some of these victims.
Internet Explorer has been slowly losing market position, given the significant security concerns, sometimes expressed even by government agencies. The trend seems inevitable. For example, only 73% of visitors to the SMM website in September and October were using a version of Internet Explorer. The choice of Web browser can influence many other associated activities so it’s a lucrative market to enter. Even Google was rumoured to be considering its own Web browser although that has since been denied. The security concerns are tough for Microsoft to handle although the aversion to change of most users will slow any exodus.
The new kid on the block is Firefox 1.0, now just released with increasing hype and publicity. If significant numbers of potential customers are switching to a different Web browser, it is important that the company website works for them. As Firefox itself notes, many “blue-chip” websites may have been set up to work with Internet Explorer. Such websites will need to ‘upgrade’ to work for all customers.
However there is a more fundamental and very much more important issue at play here.
Firefox and Internet Explorer are based on fundamentally opposing philosophies about Web design standards. Firefox assumes that Web design standards will be followed and is fairly unforgiving if they are not. The Internet Explorer browser does not itself always follow the standards. In some cases, Web designers have had to do patches to get a website that follows the standards to also display well in IE. So some websites that display reasonably in Internet Explorer may look very different when viewed with Firefox. For some unfortunately the Firefox result can be most unattractive.
This possibly didn’t matter when IE had 95% of the Web browser market. You might only be losing 1 in 20 of your customers because your website didn’t work. Now for some company websites, you may be dealing with a much higher proportion of potential customers lost. So more and more web designers will become aware of the standards and will try to make their websites compatible with the standards.
The Microsoft Internet Explorer philosophy is clearly set out in the IEblog. As you can read there,
Weve had more than a few comments suggesting that … we cater to those people who dont code their pages correctly, or people who otherwise didnt do things the right way. These comments frequently go on to suggest that we (the IE team) should use our market position to force people to fix their broken stuff.
We feel it is vitally important for web sites and applications that worked with yesterdays IE work with todays IE, and continue to work with tomorrows IE. We feel this is a deeply held expectation by the millions of IE users.
There is the implicit assumption that it is all the non-Microsoft Web designers who have created this legacy of non-conforming websites. However Microsoft is partly to blame in devising a Web browser that does not conform with standards.
So who is the biggest victim now? Well of course Microsoft itself. If they are wise, there should be high-level strategic meetings to review their stance. What they’re saying is that anything that works with the current IE is acceptable? So what deviations from standards are acceptable? Do you have to set up some new “Loose Standards” to define what is now acceptable? They’re also saying this will be their position … for ever. You see the horns of the dilemma that Microsoft is on. It’s a tough position.
If the marketplace moves to more standards-compliant websites, what kind of pressures does that put on Microsoft?