Have Microsoft Given Up On Internet Explorer?
Internet Explorer (IE) 9 was finally revealed (after a 2 year wait) in March but has done little to convince us that Microsoft take IE development seriously – why do we think that? For the following reasons:
Browser Market Share – According to Net Applications, the market shares of the 3 main web browsers over the last 7 years are striking:
IE plummeted from 90% to 51% and is now decreasing at 1% a month.
Firefox increased from 3% to 21% and is now stable.
Chrome only began 3 years ago but has rocketed to 15% already and is growing every month.
IE’s drastic decline is even more significant when you consider that it still operates in a monopoly position – it is the default browser in every version of Windows so has a huge advantage for user adoption. Also, risk averse corporations often stick with older versions of Microsoft’s IE for proven compatibility with in-house applications.
We suspect that IE’s market share has been cannibalized much further amongst home users e.g. of our visitors to TechLegon, only 15% use IE whereas Chrome and Firefox account for 40% each. Normally, a company facing a 10% loss of market share per year would start pulling furry bundles of bunnies out of the hat. But it’s just not happening – IE is in hibernation mode for the next 12 months due to its snail paced release cycle:
New Version Release Cycle – Firefox and Chrome operate a rapid release schedule – a new version appears every 6 weeks. Whilst not every version includes major changes, we think more than a third of them do significantly improve functionality, the user interface or performance – meaning there is serious improvement to both browsers every 3 or 4 months.
In contrast, IE’s sedate release cycle looks seriously antiquated – new versions take 1.5 to 2 years to emerge from their cocoon – far too long when competitors are moving on so swiftly. If Microsoft were serious about winning the browser wars they would start issuing updated versions of IE now, not wait until the release of IE10 – in about a year, and only for Windows 7 and 8…
If IE9 is looking to rest on its laurels until then it had better have some outstanding features right now:
Features – Everyone has their favorite browser and people become quite tribal about such things ;-) So we’ll just consider a few features that we noted in recent articles:
- Spell checking – unlike rivals, IE doesn’t include a spell checker (you have to add one yourself – see how to add a spell checker to IE). IE10 is due to include spell checking by default – but that’s a year away…
- Prefetching – link prefetching can help speed up website load times which is great for the reader (and web publisher) in an impatient world – Firefox and Chrome support it, IE9 doesn’t.
- Add-on Security – we found it impossible to disable the Java add-on within IE9 itself (we have a solution here) because disabling the add-on didn’t actually disable it! No such security scares with the other browsers.
- Paste & Go – copy a website link in Firefox or Chrome and just ‘Paste & Go’ it into the address bar to automatically go to that site. However, IE only has the poor man’s ‘Paste’ option. Such a simple but useful feature that is missing in IE and has us twiddling our thumbs wondering why the website isn’t loading, until we remember that IE needs you to hit Enter…
It wouldn’t be too difficult to add these features to IE9 right now – if Microsoft took IE seriously. If they were worried that big business won’t like rapid changes, how about releasing a consumer version of IE to match the version of Windows – a powerful modern IE Home for W7 Home Premium and a traditional IE Pro for W7 Professional?
IE9 is a decent browser and improves on IE8 but it is stuck in time and falling ever further behind the faster moving competition. For further improvement you must wait for IE10 in a year but Microsoft’s long development cycle will leave that version playing catch up – before it is even released.
We can understand Microsoft focusing more on Windows 8 (it pays the bills) but it seems shortsighted to ignore IE – bonding users to IE helps keep them using Windows whereas users switching to a cross-platform browser like Chrome have one less reason to keep the faith.
Google use Chrome’s success and increased brand awareness for crossover to products like Android and Chrome OS. Microsoft really should be doing the same by producing a top performing IE, regularly – Windows Mobile and Windows 8 would be the obvious candidates to benefit.
What do you think, are Microsoft doing enough for Internet Explorer?