The diary and photos of Chris Beach. I'm into windsurfing, coding, badminton, drawing and composing music using computers and synths.

Let's start with a quote:
"I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours" Stephen Roberts


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why i support internet explorer in the new browser wars

Before commenting on this article please note that I wrote it almost 6 months ago when Firefox was on beta release. My opinions on the browser are not so negative these days

I just read a comment on this site from someone who was amazed at my "I love Microsoft for IE" attitude. Well, let me explain.

I have happily used IE since the early versions in the late nineties. Back then the web saw the first round of "browser wars," which Microsoft won despite simultaneously fighting anti-trust cases instigated by the competition. Luckily many of the legal experts involved in the anti-trust campaign saw the reality of the situation:

There is overwhelming economic evidence that Microsoft’s actions have benefited and continue to benefit consumers. With no evidence of actual consumer harm, I do not believe that it is appropriate to second-guess, much less ascribe illicit motives to, business decisions that Microsoft and other companies made that have provided demonstrable consumer benefits.

Charging low prices, expanding the markets, spreading the use of new technology, bringing consumers into the computer age, is providing benefits to consumers
The direct testimony of MIT Sloan School of Business Dean Dr. Richard Schmalensee
"The Internet’s meteoric rise in the 1990s can be attributed in large part to the increased Internet familiarity Microsoft’s innovations produced. The prosecution wishes to punish Microsoft for investment that improved its own product and increased demand for personal computers and Internet applications in general.

The time to end the lawsuit has come. The threshold harm was not proved; quite to the contrary, economic benefits were found."
CSE.org

The competition, Netscape, in it's deperation, tried to prevent Microsoft from bundling IE with Windows, despite the fact that Netscape could also be installed on a Windows PC. Again, reason saved the day:

"Separate markets exist for shirts and buttons, cars and tires, cars and rustproofing, yet few people would object to these integrations."
Stephen Margolis, Professor of Economics at North Carolina State University
Some went so far as to claim that, by dumping its web browser into the market for free, Microsoft would control who got on the Internet, where they went, and what they would see. The very nature of the Internet made this a technical impossibility, but nonetheless, people complained.The History of Internet Explorer, Scott Schnoll

The anti-trust case was taken to the very highest level by pressure from Netscape and other competitors. In a victory for MS, it was over-ruled and reduced to a mere settlement for the company to open some of it's APIs to the public domain.

In 1999 Microsoft was issued the patent for stylesheets (filed in 1995). Microsoft worked with the W3C to set the first web standards, CSS in particular. Internet Explorer 3 was the first browser to implement CSS. You may be interested to know that Mac IE 5 was the first browser to reach better than 99% support for CSS1 as defined by the W3C, in March 2000.

Realising it could help their cause, other software developers began putting their two cents into W3C discussions and standards development grew like wild-fire. Now, new standards are developed faster than any one browser can totally fulfil, but many new browsers are able to claim they support "web-standards" better than IE6. Meanwhile, for three years there was no new version of Internet Explorer released, although the new Windows Update system allowed MS to keep the browser up-to-date with patches and security enhancements. I believe Microsoft elected to cease its rapid development of IE because it was held back by threats of expensive anti-trust lawsuits. No company would risk being attacked in court, even if it meant major innovation in a product was frozen for a period of time.

Playing on the market leader's unfortunate position, fledgeling new contenders rolled in from open-source teams like Mozilla. Mozilla built its browser on the source-code of fallen contender Netscape, which was made public in 1998. Many self-proclaimed web gurus from these various groups joined the fray of discussion that the W3C had become, and a whole new set of specifications were laid out. Many of these "new" standards had already been implemented in IE6 (vertical text, element alpha, ruby characters etc), but the new competitors wanted their own syntax, a new "standard" way. So, the situation deteriorated from the fixed standard of CSS1, developed in conjunction with MS, to CSS2 (many fingers in the pie), to CSS2.1 (mainly bug-fixes for the W3C specification of CSS2) and finally to an unwieldy, modular CSS3, whose first ideas were discussed in 1999, and is still not a finished product even in 2004. In a move which can only serve to damage the cohesiveness of the standard and set IE at an automatic disadvantage, certain parts of this spec have been drip-fed into the browser community.

"Well, some standards frankly stink. Sometimes a little capitalism is needed to cull the best parts of standards. The best standards usually come from small groups who come up with an idea and "flavor" that is catchy, simple, and works. When consortiums try to set standards, they quite often create a mess that only a mother could love." C2 Wiki

So what are we left with? A whole new collection of browsers, each with bespoke rendering engines and differing levels of javascript support, most of which are in beta stage and fraught with user interface bugs and some serious security holes [2] [3]. And how do these products gain market share? Mainly by word of mouth, on a religious scale, kicked off by the browser producers themselves. Most prevalent are the Mozilla evangelists, who sometimes use ridiculous claims to try to convince uninformed browser users to abandon IE in favour of Firefox.

Let's not forget that IE still has some important advantages over it's new competitors. IE is heavily pre-cached by Windows and loads much faster than it's standalone rivals. Its browsing engine can be (and has been) well integrated into Windows software, and the OS itself using COM. IE Settings can be remotely administered over a corporate network. There's native support for Web Services through IE's behaviours. The HTML parser is much more flexible, and able to render malformed code (I'm not concerned if a site has well-formed markup when I'm merely surfing). The addon manager is highly fault tolerant. There's even a range of photoshop-style image filters built in. Of course Mozilla doesn't mention such things when making (largely eroneous) comparisons with IE on its Firefox pages.

I see competitors attempting to tear apart the reputation of a company that has served me well personally, and bettered computer science as a whole. I will counter disinformation, whether it is sensationalist, conspiracy-theorist or merely self-serving. It is for these reasons, I support IE.

written by Chris Beach
15/08/04 11:20pm
(10 years, 2 months ago)
comment 16 comments

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