Simon Willison’s Weblog

The reason monopolies are a bad idea

I wasn’t planning to cover the recent AOL and Microsoft announcements as they’ve been covered to death elsewhere by people with far more insight than myself, but this third piece of news seems to bring things to a head: Microsoft have announced the end of development of Internet Explorer for the Mac. I’ve never really had access to this browser but I’ve read enough to know that it was the first full browser release to take web standards seriously, and as such plays a very important part in the history of the web standards movement. It’s sad to see it come to an end, but it also raises yet more questions about the direction Microsoft is taking with regards to the web.

In case you haven’t heard, Microsoft paid off AOL a few weeks ago to the tune of $750,000,000. In return, they got rid of the ongoing lawsuit concerning their illegal use of their desktop monopoly to crush Netscape, and more importantly gave AOL the “right” to use IE as the browser for the AOL software for the next 7 years. Seeing as AOL own Netscape and most Mozilla development is still carried out by full time Netscape engineers, this has raised doubts about how long AOL will continue to fund development of everyone else’s favourite browser.

The real stinker though is the revelation that Microsoft are abandoning development of the stand along version of Internet Explorer for Windows. IE 6 is all we’re getting—if you want a better version of Microsoft’s browser you’ll need to upgrade your operating system, as future browser versions will be an integral part of the OS. When you consider the number of people still using Windows 98 (for example, every PC in the Library at my University) it’s likely to take upwards of 5 years from the release of a new Windows OS for it to achieve a significant market share. The upside of this is that we’re stuck with IE6 for the best part of the decade.

This is incredibly bad news. IE’s support for modern standards, while verging on adequate, is still severely lacking. It’s not just niceties such as alpha-transparent PNGs and position: fixed; the browser is littered with bugs that make writing complex CSS for it a minefield, and has a number of well documented flaws (such as the inability to enlarage pixel sized fonts) that consistently require workarounds. It doesn’t even support the <abbr> tag!

On the plus side, at least this will give developers who haven’t yet cottoned on to the benefits of web standards time to catch up. On the minus side, once they do catch up they’ll have to endure the same pains that the rest of us are putting up with now.

Personally I can’t wait for Firebird 1.0, which I plan to distribute to everyone I know with a Windows PC. I know it won’t make the slightest bit of difference in the big picture, but at least it will help dissipate some of the frustration.

Better analysis than mine:

This is The reason monopolies are a bad idea by Simon Willison, posted on 14th June 2003.

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Previously hosted at http://simon.incutio.com/archive/2003/06/14/monopolies