Microsoft Seeking Respect for Internet Explorer

Microsoft Seeking Respect for Internet Explorer

A viable mobile strategy is perhaps key

Microsoft's Internet Explorer still commands almost 60 percent of desktop PC web browser usage, a figure that has held steady for over a year. But IE is widely viewed as the AOL of web browsers, something that the unwashed masses use only because they don't realize there are viable, even superior, alternatives. And the software giant is hoping to change that.

Microsoft's Internet Explorer team discussed its plans in a recent and curiously giddy Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) chat.

Before getting to that, I'd like to address one frequently misunderstood fact: Regarding IE usage, not much has changed in two years. IE has always dominated web browser usage, and all the arrival of competitors like Firefox, Chrome and Safari has done is re-level its usage at the 55 to 60 percent range (from 80 percent in its heyday). By comparison, Chrome is currently responsible for 20 percent of usage, and Firefox is at 15 percent. The rest are also-rans.

Source: NetMarketShare

But that's on the PC desktop. IE's need for remaking is due in large part to the same trends that are chipping away at the relevance of Windows too: Users, in ever-larger numbers, are experiencing the web from the smaller lens of a smart phone or tablet. And on those systems, Chrome and Safari are dominant because the underlying platforms, Android and iOS, respectively, are made by the same companies. IE is available on mobile versions of Windows—Windows 8/RT and Windows Phone—but neither system has broad usage.

In other words, IE is the Rodney Dangerfield of the web browser world for two reasons: It's only dominant on the one computing platform that isn't growing (traditional PCs) and is quickly being overshadowed by more mobile alternatives. And even on the platform on which it is dominant, it's not the choice of the technically savvy. It gets no respect.

Regarding this very real issue—after all, perception drives reality—the IE team said on Reddit that it "hopes" it can change IE's reputation. They appear to be focused on starting with developers, though that hasn't helped over the past three IE versions, and the team noted the recent announcements about more quickly retiring older IE versions going forward.

One thing the IE team did consider to address the perception issues was rebranding the browser.

"It's been suggested internally," the team wrote. "[There was] a particularly long email thread where numerous people were passionately debating it. Plenty of ideas get kicked around about how we can separate ourselves from negative perceptions that no longer reflect our product today."

And that rebranding may still happen. "The discussion was a very recent one (just a few weeks ago)," the team added. "Who knows what the future holds :)"

How about pushing IE to popular mobile platforms like Android or iOS? After all, under Microsoft's "mobile first, cloud first" strategy, the firm is busy porting every other app it makes to those platforms.

Not going to happen, Microsoft said.

"Right now, we're focused on building a great mobile browser for Windows Phone and have made some great progress lately," the IE team explained. "So, no current plans for Android/iOS."

It will also not develop a version of IE for Mac, noting that Mac-based web developers can use online tools to see how their sites work in different IE versions.

What about ceasing development of its own Trident web rendering engine and adopting Android's WebKit or a similar effort? Also not in the cards, Microsoft said.

"We are committed to improving our own engine. We love the fact that the web was built on multiple competing (yet interoperable) platforms and believe that this is how it is going to move forward into the future!"

If you are an IE user, Microsoft hinted at a few coming changes in IE 12, or whatever the next browser is called. In that release, it is working to bring desktop IE features to the Modern IE version in Windows 8/RT and vice versa.

"There are some great features that are in the [Modern] version [of IE] (Flip ahead, Reading view, using site images to represent Favorites, swiping to navigate back and forward...) that we'd like to bring over to the desktop," the team noted. It said it has been investigating bringing IE extensions to the Modern version of the browser for a few versions now, and that such a thing could happen in the future.

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