Death of a Browser

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Date: Sunday, June 19th, 2005, 14:59
Category: Archive

Love it or hate it, this week has been all about Microsoft killing MSIE for the Mac. Some love it, some hate it, but all view the MSIE decision as historic. The question is, what does it mean for the Mac’s future: a portent of Microsoft abandoning the platform? The loss of a great browser? Good riddance to an outdated browser? The Dark Ages of web development in which Microsoft calls the shots from its fully Windows-based, integrated web browsing? (Read more)


Love it or hate it, this week has been all about Microsoft killing MSIE for the Mac. Some love it, some hate it, but all view the MSIE decision as historic. The question is, what does it mean for the Mac’s future: a portent of Microsoft abandoning the platform? The loss of a great browser? Good riddance to an outdated browser? The Dark Ages of web development in which Microsoft calls the shots from its fully Windows-based, integrated web browsing?
Apple, for its part, responded yesterday in an interview for MacCentral, in which Apple and Microsoft both claim Safari is the better browser and the browser for the Mac’s browsing future and Microsoft made the decision to switch to its “revenue-generating” software, Office.
The rising consensus seems to revolve around this position. The Mac certainly isn’t short of web browsers, with Safari, OmniWeb, and the excellent Camino. The cross-platform, open-source Mozilla got a new release today. And while the initial kneejerk reaction from some hot-headed Mac users led to cries of “conspiracy,” why should anyone need conspiracy theories to explain Microsoft backing off a product that wasn’t earning money, wasn’t necessary to the platform, and had free competition from the hardware maker?
Of course, there is the timing, and that’s the real cause for concern, not because of what it means for the Mac platform but for browsing in general. Microsoft seems to have backed off of MSIE development a long time ago, aside from some bug fixes, which even continued this week with the release (the final release?) of 5.2.3. But the announcement this month comes on the heels of Microsoft’s announcement that it’s abandoning standalone Internet Explorer versions in favor of one “integrated” into the OS. Curiously, the DOJ case seems to have caused more anticompetitive behavior from Redmond than it fixed: this was what we were supposed to avoid.
I think we as the Mac community should put aside our obsession with our own platform and look at the bigger picture here. Microsoft has already strong-armed the web into supporting its standards implementations so that the Web became Redmond’s domain. With Windows and browsing one and the same, the entire web could be reconfigured around new versions of Windows. That’s a very, very bad thing. It’s even a bad thing from a Windows perspective: remember, most of the installed PC user base is still running antiquated older releases. That’s no reason to cut them off from the Web; old machines running old browsers have a lot more to worry about that the Mac with its arsenal of beautiful, elegant new browsing software.
There’s no question about it: Microsoft is attacking the standards-based web, just as the concept is finally starting to mature. Ironically, many see MSIE for the Mac as a seminal moment for standards implementation. I’m frankly a lot more worried about this trend — given that the Web is now the world’s major growth communication medium — than the prospect even of losing Office for the Mac.
The battle lines have been drawn: on one side, Microsoft, on the other, everyone else. Remember Larry Ellison’s interest in Apple in the surreal days of the Jobs takeover? He may have been onto something. Apple, despite its tiny market share, still manages to have a major influence on the Desktop sphere. And the Internet sphere is increasingly fueled by Microsoft alternatives, both commercial/proprietary and open source.
In fact, the choice between the two is increasingly less relavent. The Mac has proven that highly proprietary commercial software can coexist with open-source GPL software. I hardly even notice the difference switching between the two. The entire OS is built on this concept. Meanwhile, for example, I’m building a new website that’s powered on the server end by MySQL, a classic example of free open-source providing a powerful alternative, but I build my graphics in Macromedia software at the opposite extreme. And I don’t care — as long as everything works. Microsoft is in a position to keep everything from working and that’s what makes some of us upset.
So, I say, it’s definitely time to rally behind Safari, behind open-source, and behind web standards. There’s some good news here. PeopleSoft announced at the beginning of May that it would certify Safari for its web applications, and already runs all of its enterprise software on Mac OS 9 and X (adding Linux by the end of the year). That may not sound like much, but speaking as someone who has worked in corporate Information Technology in human resources, that’s huge.
Microsoft is interested in one thing: power. And, regardless of how you feel about that politically, it just doesn’t mix well with what users actually need. The real appeal of the open-source movement has been that it’s given users a better experience. For that reason, I’m not as afraid of Apple losing Office as Alex Salkever is today in Business Week. I will say, let’s hope that Microsoft is hanging onto Office in the short term because this would be an enormous emotional blow to the Mac and free alternatives are so far not ready for prime time. I think if Office is making money, the Mac is safe. The problem is, no one really seems to know how the MacBU’s finances are looking. I would be very surprised if someone at Apple isn’t exploring how Apple could do with an office suite what it did with Safari, though. I actually use and (gasp) like MS Office, but I think the days when Microsoft can threaten the future of the Mac platform by threatening it with killing Office support are finally coming to a close. The fact that losing MSIE wasn’t bad news on the Mac is a sign of how much things have changed.
In the meantime, do we mourn MSIE for the Mac? Of course we do. And from the comforts of Mozilla or Safari, we can read the excellent epitaphs assembled by John Gruber, like the moment the Tasman rendering engine lead developer heard of IE’s death.
MSIE for Mac is dead. Long live MSIE for Mac. (And, hopefully, long live standards.)

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