Monday, February 9th, 2009

State of the Browsers

Category: Browsers

PPK has written a nice aggregation post on the state of browsers which considers a few recent topics, most importantly discussing the EC mess with Microsoft:

There’s some browser news to discuss, and I thought I’d bundle it all in one entry. Maybe I’ll even do this more often; it seems a good feature for this blog. But I’m not promising anything!

This weekend I started testing some new browsers, and meanwhile I’ve updated the HTML and CSS tables. There were no surprises. I’m continuing with the Events tables, but they’re so large and sometimes so complicated that I’m not sure when I’ll finish.

In this installment we’ll take a look at IE8RC1 and some reactions to it, Safari 3.2, Chrome’s lack of a “Check for updates automatically” feature and Opera’s antitrust complaint.

Browser Wars update

Two weeks ago I wrote a post about some unexpected consequences of Opera’s current antitrust complaint against Microsoft. If IE is unbundled from Windows, which browser should be installed instead? My conclusion was that any new computer would contain either zero or five browsers.

Opera employee Haavard responded that the hardware vendors (which are apparently called OEMs; funny name) would add one browser of their choice to new computers. Several commenters here on QuirksMode saw the same solution.

I’m not convinced this is the right thing to do. When it comes to influencing hardware vendors, Microsoft still has a considerable edge over all other browser vendors, because the hardware people need several Microsoft products (such as Windows) to make their machines worthwhile. So I doubt this is going to change anything in the short run.

Let’s for a moment suppose that Microsoft genuinely repents of its evil ways and does not pressure hardware vendors to include IE. Despite this, some hardware vendors will choose IE, and whether that’s out of habit or because they truly think it’s the best browser available is unimportant.

Now we still have some new computers that come with IE. How are we going to distinguish between IE being installed because Microsoft puts pressure on the hardware vendors and IE being installed because the vendors genuinely think it’s the best browser?

In the logic that Opera’s complaint is setting up, a hardware vendor that genuinely believes in IE would be accused of “bowing down” to the Redmond monopolist, even if this accusation is baseless. And that could be the beginning of a lot of ideology-driven nastiness.

I don’t like the way this is heading. I don’t like it at all.

Posted by Dion Almaer at 7:55 am
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I’m with PPK here.

I think this will be exacly like the other EU enforced rule ( anyone remember the Windows XP without media player that no one wanted?? )

IE is embedded into people’s minds as ‘the internet’. The blue E will forever be associated with the the internet for the average joe. Even though the browser sucks, i don’t think there’s anything we can do about that. Even if the consumer has the choice between 5 different browsers, I think 99% will click the ‘IE’ link.

Comment by SchizoDuckie — February 9, 2009

Maybe we should start a campaign to have all other browsers change their logos to a blue ‘E’ then :-)

level the playing field as such.

Comment by RoryH — February 9, 2009

It would be possible to accustom people with Firefox and it’s fox icon.
All computers that I have installed, I have completely removed IE and installed Firefox.
I have created desktop and start-menu shortcuts to Firefox and renamed them to “Internet”, so that people know it’s the internet they are looking for.
I agree with SchizoDuckie: Even if the consumer has the choice between 5 different browsers, I think 99% will click the ‘IE’ link.. “Mozilla Firefox” icon would mean nothing for most users, but “Internet” would.

Comment by ubuntu84 — February 9, 2009

I’ve heard from my kids that there are browser wars in the schools. Sort alike in West Side Story. The e’s and the foxes (and, of course, the Safaris on the school Macs).
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I don’t think the kids will come out of school with the idea that there’s only one browser and it comes from Microsoft. I don’t think too many people under 25 think that.

Comment by Nosredna — February 9, 2009

The only thing that would cause the average joes and the hardware vendors to abandon IE en masse is a widespread movement to build websites according to standards, IE fixes be damned. How is the public supposed to know it’s a shoddy browser if they never see it break? We web developers are the only people who know about IE’s spectacular flaws because we keep covering them up. Microsoft gets away with these garbage browsers because we enable them to every step of the way.

Clearly letting IE destroy itself is the solution, but I just don’t know how to get us there. It’s too impractical for any money-making website to abandon such a large user base. Someone has to be rich enough and ballsy enough (Google?) to do it first and trigger the cascade. Until then we’re all stuck.

Comment by pendensproditor — February 9, 2009

I don’t mind so much if IE is the default browser. While I hate the browser, and think it is absolute crap, I think Microsoft has the right to bundle it.

Something, however, needs to be done about the crappy state of the browser. The only thing I can think of is to get the user involved. As much as I hated the “Best Viewed In” message, I really think widely-used sites should start using a variation of it. When running on IE (especially older versions thereof) sites should be stripped-down versions of themselves. To view the site properly, one would have to use a proper browser. A “Best Viewed in an A-Grade Browser” with a list of such browsers (Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Opera) would then be shown.

Users may seem unintelligent at times (too unintelligent, perhaps, to not click the “e” icon), but perhaps they just do what they know works. And if it doesn’t work, they’ll try something else. How do you think they install Flash on their system? Or any of the other add-ons that it would be better if they did not install?

Comment by ialexi — February 9, 2009

Apple or Mozilla need to release an IE plug-in that renders pages using their own engine. It could be activated by a special response header. Web developers can easily require (or just bug the hell out of) users to download and install it. Imagine if it were available for IE 5, 6, 7, 8+.. We’d have a high quality engine that is updated more than once per decade. The #1 drag on web development would finally and permanently be thrown out the window.

Comment by Bub — February 9, 2009

@bub, I don’t think you really need to cover IE5 anymore. Or, if could just show this on IE5: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/1/1f/Sad_mac.png

Comment by Nosredna — February 9, 2009

I’m highly perturbed no one is implementing W3C Widgets.

Comment by rektide — February 9, 2009

I would prefer to see a simple script that is run on first boot, that asks you which browser you’d prefer and pull that down using wget or something similar.

You could gain some interesting stats on peoples preference per vendor, country, etc.

Comment by bogphanny — February 9, 2009

I think it is going to take more sites like gmail to sniff out browsers and ask users: “Do you want a better experience? Get a better browser.” Several people have mentioned the current state of the average web user: Big Blue E == internet. Maybe there is an age divide, maybe the young are more educated than the old, these days, but until there is a legitimate killer app, one that really takes an upgrade or die attitude towards it’s users, pushes the limits of the new JavaScript engines, then majority of people will continue to have their heads in the sand. We have done so much for so long long to keep them in the dark. Every hack has contributed to users never finding out that there is anything wrong with the Big Blue E. We are not to blame, and I am tired of blaming Microsoft. I think more sites should sniff for IE6 for starters and if detected drop all styles. White backgrounds with blue links, and then explain why. Target IE6 for now.

Comment by maddesa — February 9, 2009

I have issue with this in that what about new operating system installations. I go out and purchase Windows 7 because my Vista has issues. I install the OS, now how do I install the browser without a browser. Like many developers here I loathe IE and its issues; however, maybe there should be more focus on IE working better with standards and not having a 20% market share and no reason for MS to build a standards compliant browser. How about pressuring MS to make a nice standards compliant browser instead? Furthermore, should Ubuntu be allowed to install Firefox? Should Apple be allowed to install safari? Why target MS? Just my $.02…

Comment by slackbits — February 9, 2009

@PPK (OP)
I am sorry, but I think your rhetoric is pure bs. Choices have never been bad, and to either have all as an option during first boot up or to let HW vendors choose or some variations of the above is a *choice* – period…!
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To have a choice between different browsers would onlu do one freaking thing – foster more competition!
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And after a while some HW vendor will come around and say stuff like “the faster internet machine” or something and use Chrome or some faster browser and the others will follow…
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In a “choice world” I am pretty sure about that the IE market-share will die ASAP…!
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Go Håkon …! ;)

Comment by ThomasHansen — February 10, 2009

Please don’t want choices about things they don’t care about.

Comment by MichaelWard — February 10, 2009

@slackbits
How much more pressure could we possibly put on Microsoft to make a better browser of their own accord? They’re reminded constantly that they’re the laughing stock of the browser world. Every web development tutorial online has a “… and here’s what you do to make it work in IE” section. When the IE team gives us updates on their progress half of the comment responses to them are filled with anger and venom. None of this has prevented IE8 from being a 2005 technology.

We’ve tried everything else. There’s only one recourse left. We have to show the world how IE really renders a page. We just have to figure out how to make it happen without companies everywhere losing millions of dollars in the process.

Comment by pendensproditor — February 10, 2009

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