Beholden to the IE Browser

Sun and WaSP are are both following the recent IE Browser-only machinations at the US Copright office. The basic problem is that the US Copyright Office is considering using updated software that will only run in IE 5.x or later software. To do business with a public agency you will need a Microsoft desktop and browser. The Copyright Offices software will be adapted to work with other browsers at a “later” date.

Such vigilance by Sun and WaSP is commendable but the bottom line is that the broad ISV community largely develops for IE first and in many cases uses proprietary extensions that mean in effect IE only. Hence one of the major advantages of a Web interface, that it runs on any desktop platform, is negated when going with IE-only development.

In working on consulting assignments I have to spend quite some time explaining the advantages of developing Web interfaces that work cross browser. Fortunately, non-IE browsers continue to gain market share – my websites are now showing a 20%++ penetration of non-IE browsers. But the stats among the web analytic firms is quite widely varying helping to sew confusion which Microsoft is taking advantage of.

But even more distressing is the fact that companies that have been treated by Microsoft with fierce competitive attacks, continue to develop IE-only applications. Take for example BI vendors Cognos and SAS. Both are subject to ferocious attack in the BI space because Microsoft is giving away free with every copy of SQL Server a complete BI stack. You would think Cognos and SAS would at least insure that their BI Web based software would have the distinct competitive advantage that it runs in any browser…. Well not exactly. Both are dependent on IE-only for their ReportNet and BI Enterprise Server packages respectively.

And major competitors to Microsoft like Google openly admit that big chunks of their software are written for IE only. In effect, the ISV community has been slow to respond to 3 distinct trends:
1)Microsoft has been an enemy to the Web interface since roughly 2000 when it stopped all development on IE and asociated DHTML and AJAX like software In a bit of duplicity Redmond is now saying it a)pioneered in original AJAX development- true; and b) so it now deserves to be the leader in AJAX development going forward conveniently omitting the fact that it stopped all AJAX and DHTML projects since roughly 2000;
2)Microsofts IE will always be the lowest innovator of new browser technology because Microsoft has publicly stated that its PC/Desktop/Office based Smart Client strategy is a better than the Web interface. In effect, Smart Client features and innovations not only trump but also preclude key browser technologies as wide ranging as DOM standardization, SVG natively in the browser, JPEG2000, XFORMS, JavaScript 2.0 and E4X, etc;
3)Microsoft IE will continue to lose market share to alternative browsers precisely because of points 1) and 2) above.
So as long as major ISVs continue to be beholden to the IE Browser, the inevitable progress toward truly open and cross platform Web browsing will be a rocky road. So the next time a software vendor says its applications are browser based – check and make sure it works with all the browsers (start with Firefox since its growing fastest). Otherwise you may find yourselves beholden to IE and therefore Microsoft yet again.