Oh IE9, Why Hast Thou Forsaken Us?

I wrote in my last post about how the majority of browser vendors do a bang up job of supporting the most important HTML5 features today.  There is one very notable exception, however: Microsoft.

So why is Microsoft consistently the bane of the Web developer’s world?  For years, IE6 caused developers to create special code in order to make their web sites cross-browser friendly.  You’d think that blog post after blog post on IE’s lack of standards support would have some effect on the company.

With IE9, they have promised an HTML5 compliant browser, but what we have gotten instead is anything but.  Sure, the new IE iteration supports more of the spec than its predecessor did (how could it not), but to say that its HTML5 support is excellent or much better than expected is truly missing the mark.

Of the seven most important HTML5 features that I listed in my last post, IE9 supports two – audio/video and 2d rendering.  Offline access, web workers, WebSockets, GeoLocation, and even HTML5 forms are not supported.  That’s not what I expected out of Microsoft’s highly touted next-gen browser.  Then again, given their track record, maybe it was to be expected. [note: for a comprehensive list of browsers and their supported HTML5 features, see the excellent findmebyIP.com]

To be fair, IE9 has not been released to the general public yet.  But still, I’m not holding my breath on any of these currently unsupported features being provided out of the gate.  And even if they miraculously make it into the first release, there is an even bigger problem that Microsoft has created – legacy necessity.

You see, IE9 will only be available to Windows 7 or Windows Vista (SP2+) users.  Windows XP, which has the largest user base of any OS in the world at the moment, will be stuck on IE8, which has virtually no support at all for HTML5.

What are the ramifications of these Microsoft decisions?  Well, it is quite likely that these developments could lead to an erosion of market share for IE versions across the board.  If IE6, 7, or 8 users are looking to upgrade their browser experience, it is likely that they’ll switch to a better browser offering like Chrome or Firefox, rather than upgrade their OS or buy a whole new computer system.  In addition, Chrome-based tablets, iOS and Android WebKit devices, AppleTV and GoogleTV devices, and a myriad of other competitive technologies will hamper adaptation of IE9.

Now, I don’t underestimate Microsoft’s near monopoly in the Corporate world.  Doing so would be foolish.  But I think that they are vulnerable there as well.  As more and more Corporate decision makers become accustomed to their personal iPads, iPhones, Android Devices, and the like, there’s that much more of a chance that the next major Enterprise software upgrade that they make will eschew Microsoft technologies in favor of more usable and standards-compliant products.

So, do you think Microsoft will reap what it sows?  Or do you think they have such a stranglehold on the OS/browser markets that they’ll get away with a lack of standards support once again?

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2 Responses to Oh IE9, Why Hast Thou Forsaken Us?

  1. I was just discussing something related to this on Yammer with some of my fellow Virtusans today. Microsoft has traditionally been able to get away with being boorish towards web standards with their browser because of their desktop OS domination – but you raise an interesting point regarding IE 9 not being available on XP. Win7, while certainly more popular than Vista does not however have anywhere near the kind of market penetration that XP does.

    Having said that I have this suspicion that they will still get away with it once again. The average non-technical computer user does not, in my opinion, care a whole lot (or at least as passionately as technologists do) about what browser they are using – they invariably just click on the blue E that sits on their desktop. So chances are, XP users will continue using IE 6 (yep, not even IE 8 – I mean, how many people conscientiously apply service packs? Unless Windows Update automatically does it for them in the background (which I suppose is the default now)… but history teaches us that if you don’t ship it in the box then you’re going to have to support it forever – except, in Microsoft’s case if *they* don’t ship it in the box then *we* are going to have to support it; at least as long as they do and often longer!) till eventually they decide to get a new laptop or desktop and get Win7 pre-loaded with it.

    • Gene says:

      That is a very good point Raj. I suppose the only thing that might change that behavior is if some of these App Stores become the standard for distribution, and contain loads of apps that are written in technologies that would require the user to either get a plug-in, like Chrome Frame, or bypass the browser altogether and use some sort of native app, with, say a WebKit rendering engine embedded.

      Thanks for your comment!

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