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Microsoft's Missed Opportunity with Internet Explorer in Windows 10

Microsoft's Missed Opportunity with Internet Explorer in Windows 10

Microsoft concedes the web to WebKit

Two separate reports from people I know and trust detail Microsoft's plans for Internet Explorer in Windows 10: The software giant will actually build two versions of its flagship web browser, each with its own unique version of the Trident rendering engine. And while this is all very interesting, the real story here is Microsoft's missed opportunity to drop Trident all together and use WebKit, the rendering engine developers prefer, instead.

Neowin's Brad Sams writes in a post this morning that Microsoft is forking the Trident rendering engine used by Internet Explorer. One version will be provided when the browser detects a web page that requires an older IE version, ensuring backwards compatibility. And a newer, more efficient version of Trident will be summoned for more modern web pages. I spoke with Sams about this development over the weekend and will say only that his source is clearly solid.

Over at ZDNet, however, Mary Jo Foley cites a number of her own sources to provide more detail. She says that Windows 10 will actually include two web browsers, Internet Explorer and a "Spartan," the latter of which will be a more lightweight browser with support for Chrome- and Firefox-style extensibility.

Based on what I'd previously heard, I believe Spartan (which is just a codename) to be a new version of the Modern version of IE that shipped in Windows 8/8.1; and you may recall that Microsoft had previously promised to support extensibility in a future version of that browser.

But I also believe none of this matters in the slightest.

What the web developers who create the increasingly sophisticated web sites and web apps that we enjoy every day really need is a single standard to which to write. And that standard is not HTML 5 (which is a combination of modern versions of HTML, CSS and JavaScript, and other web technologies) but rather a common rendering engine that works consistently across all mainstream PC and device platforms.

That rendering engine is WebKit, which is used by the only web browsers that really matter these days: Google Chrome and Apple Safari.

Yes, IE still dominates desktop web browsing. But that's the past, not the future. If you look at mobile web browser share, you see a very different story: Apple Safari represents 45 percent of all mobile web browser usage, and Chrome is number two with 21.45 percent; combine Chrome with the older stock Android browser and the figure jumps to 42 percent.

Where is IE on this chart? At number four, behind Opera Mini, with 2 percent of the market.

I have to think that the good folks on the IE team debated this point and would further guess that the old-timers won out in what I hope was heated argument. But any attempt to keep Trident limping along for any reason other than backwards compatibility is a mistake, and the world certainly doesn't need yet another web rendering engine. And you don't have to be young and idealistic to see that.

Note: A couple of things about WebKit. I've long-expected WebKit's domination. And while Google did pull out of the alliance backing WebKit last year and essentially fork the rendering engine for Chrome, such a thing is vastly preferable to completely different rendering engines. That ship has sailed.

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